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 R.

Love Language (Part 1)

by Djinn

 

 

1.

 

Him

 

You wake, skin on fire, unsure where you are—or why you are. Didn't you die? You remember the last thing you said to Hansen, giving her the ship—and her goddamn Borg name.

 

"Fuuuuuuuuuuuck," you moan as your insides seem to do cartwheels of pain.

 

"Lie still." It's Ohk. So you're still on the ship. But you died. You know you died.

 

You don't remember shit about being dead but you're damn well sure you were.

 

There's the hiss of a hypospray, then another and another. Ohk's voice, frantic now, saying, "Seven, something is really wrong."

 

"Put him in stasis. Let me find someone who can help."

 

You can hear her but not see her. "Hansen, so help me God—"

 

"Shut up, sir." She's in view now, looking down at you with near panic in her eyes, and you grab her arm and say, "What the fuck did you do, Hansen?"

 

And then the stasis field engages and you're sucked into unconsciousness.

 

 

Her

 

You're in Ohk's office, punching in the code for the Doctor, having to redo it twice because your hands are shaking.

 

He doesn't pick up and it goes to voicemail. So you comm over and over again until he finally does pick up. "Well, Seven, you are certainly insistent."

 

"I know you're mad at me." Before he can say anything you hold up your hand. "I don't want to discuss what we talked about the last time."

 

"Yes, heaven forfend that we discuss our feelings."

 

"We'd be discussing your feelings, not mine. Which is why you're mad. I need your help. My captain was dead and I gave him nanoprobes."

 

"Rather old ones."

 

"The opposite actually. He's not doing well. I need your help."

 

He sighs dramatically. "Where are you?"

 

"The Titan."

 

"What is his status right now?"

 

"He's in stasis. Things are going—well, not like they did for Neelix. Please? He's a good man and he died saving others. Saving all of us. You know about the Borg threat?"

 

"Know? I've been called into duty to help."

 

You feel a sinking in your gut. Of course he has been. Can he even come?

 

"Don't look that way. We're fully staffed now and they can do without me. I'll be there shortly."

 

"Thank you." You let him cut the connection—it's the least you can do since he's doing you this favor.

 

When he's really, really mad at you. Or hurt. Or both.

 

Fuck. You've got your ex on the bridge and a wanna-be on the way. When did your life get so goddamned messy?

 

 

Him

 

You wake more slowly this time and the pain is half what it was the first time. It's not Ohk's face looking down at you but a male you don't recognize.

 

"Please don't move, Captain Shaw. We're getting you stabilized."

 

"What the fuck did Hansen do to me?"

 

"Hansen? Oh you mean Seven of Nine. Well, that's a little bit of a long story."

 

"Shorten it for me."

 

"She gave you Borg nanoprobes to bring you back to life."

 

You don't know what to say to that. You were dead, then... "Am I...am I...?" You can't even say it.

 

"Borg? You are not. They're just very handy for making a dead person into a living one." Something sounds off in his voice though.

 

"But...?"

 

"But nothing. Just..." He looks away and you think Hansen is probably standing out of sight.

 

You make your voice the one she hates. "Get where I can see you, Commander."

 

You hear her sigh, then she walks to the other side of you, not hiding behind the man, arms crossed over her chest. "Just get it over with, Shaw. It's been so long since you last dressed me down I may go into withdrawals."

 

You ignore her sarcasm. "What the ever loving fuck did you do?"

 

"I saved you. You were a consequence I was not willing to pay."

 

"You don't pay a consequence. Jesus."

 

"Fuck you. Accept then. Is that the better word?"

 

"Yeah, that works."

 

The man is watching the two of you in what seems like bemused fascination—and maybe some jealousy.

 

"Who the fuck is this guy, Hansen?"

 

"I'm the Emergency Medical Hologram from Voyager. I have experience with nanoprobes."

 

"Are they supposed to hurt this much?" The pain is coming back. "Fuck, Hansen, why does nanoshit from you hurt so bad?" You reach for her hand even though you've never done that before and she grabs it and holds on tight.

 

"Nanoprobes," she says gently.

 

"What the fuck ever. God damn it, Seven."

 

"I wondered if you were ever going to use that name. Or was saying it when you were dying just a bone you were throwing?"

 

"Fuck you."

 

"Fuck you, too, Liam."

 

You have to admit. Your name in her mouth sounds awfully damn good.

 

 But that's just the meds talking, right?

 

"Yes, well, as touching as this moment is...not, I'm going to have to give you a sedative, Captain. And adjust your levels." He points to something and you hear Ohk say, "Yeah, I was wondering about that."

 

"Does Hansen even know what she's doing, injecting me with her nanowhatevers?"

 

"I injected you, Liam." Ohk appears at your side, easing Hansen back. "And no, I didn't. I took it on faith."

 

"Faith, Doc? Fuck me. Just..." You hear multiple hisses—they're both working on you and you close your eyes and go back to sleep.

 

 

Her

 

"We need to talk," the Doctor says and motions both you and Ohk to her office. Once you're safely out of earshot of Shaw, he says, "This is not the same reaction we saw with Neelix. You said your nanoprobes are different? How exactly?"

 

You take a deep breath and look out at the biobed he's resting on. He looks so peaceful—and agreeable—when he's sleeping.

 

"They're actually only a couple of years old. And... they're from a different queen. Sort of." Fuck—you'd rather keep this to yourself but if it's going to hurt Shaw...

 

"Start from the beginning," Ohk says gently.

 

"But gist it."

 

"Fine. Because of Q, when I was with Picard, we wound up in a timeline where I'd never been assimilated. I was completely human. It was...well, it doesn't matter how it was. We picked up the last remaining Borg, a queen. Then we time-travelled to the past and she ended up being killed but not before merging with a scientist on board who was...not entirely stable. They stabbed me during a fight. Then they partially assimilated me to heal me—enough so I was old me again with the same implants, which has never made sense to me if I wasn't fully assimilated to begin with, so don't ask me how. It was more a Q reset switch than anything, if you ask me. But basically the nanoprobes happened in the twenty-first century which for me was only two years ago."

 

Both doctors are staring at you with open mouths.

 

"Did I not gist sufficiently? Or did I gist so much that some meaning was lost?"

 

"Neither," the Doctor says. "None of that makes sense."

 

"It doesn't have to make sense. It's the truth. When does anything fucking make sense in my goddamned life?"

 

"Your language, Seven..."

 

You point at the biobed. "His fault."

 

Ohk nods. "He can corrupt almost anyone."

 

"Not you though," you say. "Why is that?"

 

"I'm Trill. Well, and it's fun to resist."

 

"You should have told me your blood was different from the start." He glares at you as he scans you. "Or were you afraid I might think new blood would mean a new attitude toward what I could offer?"

 

"You do think that. You're thinking that right now."

 

"Thinking what?" Ohk asks.

 

"Nothing," you and the Doctor say together.

 

He walks away, out to the work area, mumbling about figuring out your new Borg blood but not for personal reasons and how dare you even suggest that.

 

Ohk is staring at you with a "Spill?" look.

 

"He's in love with me. Has been for years. I didn't know that until—you know what? It doesn't matter."

 

"It clears a lot up though."

 

"I'm not going to be in love with him—that's what pisses him off. Not that I wasn't before, but that I won't give him a chance now that I'm older."

 

"I understand," she says with a smile. "Do you want to tell him that you're already in love with Captain Foulmouth out there or should I?"

 

"I don't know that I am."

 

"Maybe you don't but yeah, you are. And Liam for damn sure won't admit to himself or anyone that he's gone on you. But I'm not blind, Commander." She pats your arm and goes to check on Shaw.

 

Fuck. Because your life needed more romantic complications?

 

 

 

2.

 

Him

 

You wake again and this time only Hansen is sitting near you. "You should be on the bridge."

 

"Raffi's got the conn." She doesn't look up from the padd she's working on.

 

"Raffi isn't even on this ship's crew."

 

"Nobody is complaining so..." She finally glances your way and rolls her eyes. "We're in space dock."

 

"Oh. Well, that's sort of different."

 

"God forbid you admit I did anything right."

 

"You mean like bringing me back to life? Seriously? Oh, shit..." You feel nauseated, and she seems to realize that because she grabs a bowl and helps you lean over so you can throw up in it with relative dignity and low danger of dying from drowning in your own vomit. "I gotta say, death might have been preferable to this. And you don't have to stay. I can wrangle a barf bowl all on my own."

 

She sighs. "I do have to stay."

 

"Why?"

 

"Because you need—at this stage of the process—daily infusions of nanoprobes. And it's just about time for your next one."

 

"Well, golly, I'll be assimilating folks in no fucking time at this rate. Thanks a million, Commander."

 

"The Borg are gone. Well, the traditional Borg. The Jurati Borg are just fine. And that's the thing—I have their nanoprobes running around my, and now your, system."

 

"Are you trying to kill me again by raising my blood pressure little by little?"

 

"The Jurati are peaceful."

 

"Agnes Jurati was a raving loon. You think I haven't read the reports?" By the expression on her face, you can tell you probably didn't get all of the story. "Fine, what does it mean for me that it's Jurati Borg nanoprobes and not traditional?"

 

"Over time, the Doctor found a way to stabilize nanoprobes in a system with only these additional infusions for the first few days." She takes a deep breath. "These new Jurati probes are a bit more difficult to manage. So you're going to need months of infusions before you can be on your own."

 

"Months? I need to be near you for months?"

 

She nods.

 

"You can't just donate blood and have an Earth physician shoot me up?"

 

"No, it needs to be freshly drawn from me and because of the side effects, the way your system is reacting, you need someone who knows what they're doing. The Doctor will stay until he's sure Ohk has handled every type of emergency that comes up."

 

"I'm an emergency? Still?"

 

She closes her eyes and nods.

 

"So, I have to be on the ship?"

 

"Not exactly. The ship is in for repairs. We took on a lot of damage and they want to implement some new tech. We won't be going out for a while."

 

"Define a while?"

 

"Nine months to a year, depending on how well the first tests of the new engine configurations work. They want you leading the team that's doing that, if it's any consolation for being forced to stay close to me."

 

"It's not." Actually it is, but you can't let her think she's getting away snark free with this "Playing God" bullshit. Even if not being dead is preferable to being dead, you didn't ask for this.

 

She looks down. "Yeah, well, didn't think so. But you have to so..."

 

"I don't have to. I could refuse the infusions and die."

 

Her head whips back up. "I've expended a lot of professional capital ensuring you can be on this ship past the refits, as a captain in engineering, if the nanoprobes still haven't settled down by the time we launch. I would be pissed as hell if you threw that all away and died just to be petty."

 

You can't help it. You laugh because she's gotten her sarcasm up to master level serving under you—also what she said was funny.

 

"Are you laughing at me?"

 

"Little bit. Mostly laughing with you."

 

"Good because you don't need to be conscious for the duration of these infusions. Stasis Shaw is actually so much more pleasant than you talking, and I'd expend no professional capital if I just keep you unconscious and have your stasis chamber moved around with me as excess baggage."

 

You laugh again. It's a vivid image. She's always been able to do that, even before you began to rub off on her in the swearing department. She's clever and quick and you love verbally sparring with her.

 

Then you realize what she really said. "Wait—they gave you the ship?" You smile in a way she seems immediately suspicious of. "I'm happy for you. Don't look so weird."

 

"Oh. I'm just not used to it."

 

"No, really, congratulations."

 

"Thank you."

 

"No, thank you"—you let your expression go back to snarky because serious you is clearly throwing her—"for ensuring I spend the next few years serving under you—can I expect retribution for all the shit I've given you?"

 

"We reap what we sow, Shaw. But you're going to be in a job you love. You forgot that part, you big baby."

 

"In a job I love. You're not wrong about that." You study her: she looks exhausted. "Is donating this much blood doing anything negative to you?"

 

She looks surprised you'd ask. "No. I'm fine."

 

"You look like shit."

 

You can see she is visibly counting to ten before answering. "I'm sorry I didn't put on makeup for you. I've had my hands full. With the ship, with the brass over what happened on this ship, with notifying next of kin, with the Doctor trying to convince me we'd make magic together if I just give him a chance, with Raffi up on the bridge wondering if we're getting back together now that I've picked her for my first officer."

 

"You realize that picking a first officer you have feelings for is the height of stupidity, right?"

 

"Are you speaking from experience?"

 

You narrow your eyes. That didn't sound exactly like sarcasm. "I've never been in love with a person I worked with when I picked them." Wow, you worded that with way too many caveats—hopefully she's too tired to notice.

 

"I'm not in love with her."

 

"But if she's in love with you..."

 

"Everyone's in fucking love with me or haven't you been paying attention?" She gets up and starts to pace. Really fast.

 

"You're making me dizzy. Sit the fuck down."

 

She finally does. You wait to see if she will ask the logical follow-on to her question—have you ever worked with someone you fell in love with on the job? Because love can sneak up on you when you're trying like hell to make it mind just one damn reg.

 

She doesn't seem inclined to follow it up so you breathe a sigh of relief when she stays put on the stool.

 

 "Okay, good," you say. "So the engine upgrades. Can you get me the details?"

 

She walks to Ohk's office and comes out with several padds. "I figured you would want these. I took a look. I'd like to be part of the refitting, if you think you can swing that? A captain should understand her engines, right?"

 

You've said that a million times, so for you to deny her would be pretty damn hypocritical. "Right."

 

Her smile is so self satisfied.

 

"Love a good gotcha, don't you, Hansen?"

 

She bristles at the name, just as you intended. But the anger doesn't extend to her eyes anymore. Maybe because she knows you're doing it to irritate her, not because you're hewing to the regs regarding names in the system. It's her fucking ship now. She can call herself whatever the hell she wants and the ship will respond to her. Captain's privilege.

 

You check out her insignia. Still commander. "Did you not want to shock me into a relapse when I realized they actually took my advice on promoting you or did they not pin on your new pip yet?"

 

"The latter. I was hoping..." She looks down and actually blushes.

 

"You were hoping...?" You know what she's going to say but you want to hear her say it. Want to know from her directly that she respects you enough to want it to be you who transitions her to the next level, not one of her fucking legends.

 

"That you'd pin it on for me." She's not meeting your eyes.

 

"Look at me if you're going to ask me that."

 

She meets your eyes and there's such a mix of emotions in hers that you can barely read her. Anger, sure. But also...is she afraid you'll say no?

 

"It would be my honor. Will I be out of here by then?"

 

"If not, I just won't do it till you are."

 

"That's not how it works."

 

"It is if I don't show up."

 

"Seven, you can't not show up to your own promotion ceremony."

 

"Watch me." She scooches the stool closer to the bed. "I really want you to do it." She's staring at you in a way she never has before.

 

And you really, really like it. "Okay, then."

 

"Okay, then." She swallows hard and looks away.

 

You take pity on her and give her something to do by saying, "I could use some coffee. You probably could too."

 

"No, I've been living on it. But I'll ask the Doctor if you can."

 

"You'll ask the Doctor what?" sounds from behind you.

 

Jesus, has he been listening to you two the whole time? Creepy, much?

 

"He would like some coffee."

 

"He can have water. Maybe apple juice or milk."

 

"Wow, you're fun. Are you going to put it in a baby bottle for me?"

 

The Doctor runs a scanner over you. "You'll thank me when you no longer get caffeine headaches from the coffee."

 

"No, I won't."

 

"He really won't." She looks massively uncomfortable, but you think it's only partly to do with you. She and this guy clearly have some weird ass history. But you and she didn't have the kind of relationship where you shared past histories unless it was mission critical information.

 

"He can have decaf."

 

"I don't fucking want decaf. I want a nice dark French Roast."

 

"No."

 

You've never had someone say "No" to you the way you say it to everyone else. It's pretty damned annoying.

 

You yawn and the Doctor pats your shoulder and tells you to lie there with your eyes closed and count to one hundred. "Maybe you can dream about coffee, how's that?"

 

"Fuck you."

 

"It's nice to know you apply that charm to everyone and not just Seven."

 

"Just count, Liam." Seven's voice is so soft—you could get used to that. And she used your name again. You could really get used to that. "Fine."

 

You're out before you hit twenty.

 

 

Her

 

You follow the Doctor into Ohk's office, which is empty because she's gone to dinner.

 

"So, you neglected to mention why you brought your dead captain back." He has his back to you, is studying some Trill art she's hung in a haphazardly pleasing way.

 

"Meaning...?"

 

He turns. "Meaning you have feelings for him."

 

You close your eyes and for the second time today count to ten.

 

"I taught you that. Such a handy coping mechanism. Mouthing the numbers, however, gives it away."

 

"Fuck you."

 

He sighs. "That's not an actual response, just hostility. I came all this way for you."

 

"Yes, when you should have come all this way for him." You point to the biobed. "I should not still be your favorite obsession."

 

"You give me so little credit for having nuanced feelings."

 

"They're not nuanced. They're tired. They're years too late. Where were you when I was dying inside after losing Icheb? You wouldn't even return my calls. How nuanced is that?"

 

He looks down. "I thought you were calling about me helping you get into Starfleet. I know Janeway tried."

 

"How do you know that?"

 

"I just do." He gives nothing away so you don't know if it was Kathryn who told him or someone like Tom or Harry, both of whom have kept in better touch with her than you have.

 

"Why would I bother you about that? What could you do that she couldn't?" You sit down in one of the guest chairs and sigh. "Do we have to do this now?"

 

"It's clear he doesn't yet realize you're in love with him. Excuse me for wanting to shoot my shot before he does. I'm tired of being the one you never love."

 

"I do love you. You ushered me into humanity. You and Kathryn both. You were like my parents. I considered you a father figure. A father I loved being with. Forgive me for not wanting to fuck my goddamned father."

 

"I realize I was that to you. I let you go when it was clear you didn't see me as a potential mate, I did not impose my feelings on you, and I was supportive when you took up with Chakotay. But those days are over and we are no longer in those roles. And we understand each other, Seven."

 

"No we don't. Because I don't understand how you can keep pressing a person like this. A person who has made it clear she doesn't want you that way. Who keeps having to make it clear. Why the hell do you think I stay away from you? You make me feel like it's my fault, like I'm doing something when I'm not. It's not me, it's you."

 

"Seven, I understand you at your deepest level."

 

"What's my favorite side dish?"

 

He looks confused.

 

"That man knows. That man made sure it showed up on his table when we had our weekly dinner meetings. What are my favorite flowers?"

 

"Roses."

 

"No." And now that you think of it, Shaw often had your actual favorite flowers on the table too. But they rotated the flowers so that might have just been happenstance.

 

"How do I like my steak?" And what fucking color should disgust you but doesn't? "Bourbon—rocks or neat?"

 

"Those are not your deepest levels, Seven."

 

"Those are life. Those are what's left when you take off the Borg parts and the captured as a child parts and the lost her parents part and the first lover was only in her dreams part. When you let me be just a person on a ship going from day to day. Those are the things that matter." You lean in. "Like how my hair was supposed to be like this, wavy not stick straight the way you made it. I learned that during my Rangers physical. They tweaked the genetic coding you overwrote."

 

He steps back. "Straight hair is preferred."

 

"By whom?" You stand and take a step closer to him. "By. Whom?"

 

"Statistically, women of your ethnicity have straight hair."

 

"Preferred. By. Whom?" Your voice is rising, your anger too.

 

He looks down. "I prefer it. And I thought it would be easier for you to work with."

 

You can detect no lie in that second sentence. He may not have just been being selfish.

 

"I like it this way. Wavy. And not because it's not what you chose, but because it suits me."

 

He meets you eyes. "Everything I have ever done for you has been to protect you."

 

"I know that you believe that. But I...I just can't be protected like you want to anymore. I've seen too much. I've lived too much. Maybe, if you'd answered your comms when I was truly broken, you could have picked all the pieces up and made me whole—the Seven you wanted me to be. But you didn't and that moment is so far in the past now. My future is on this ship. Yours is not. Not once we get Liam's protocol's set."

 

"Liam. The man is an ass, Seven. He will destroy you."

 

"No, he won't. First because if I'm not destroyed yet, then nothing is going to get that done. And second, because underneath the asshole, is the finest captain I have ever served with. One of the smartest people I have ever known. Quick and creative and not afraid to get his hands dirty. And sure, he's not free of obsessions, but his are keeping his people and ship safe, not how to lock down the affections of someone who just wants back a friendship she treasured."

 

"Hansen?" you hear from the biobed.

 

"We woke him. Congratulations."

 

He doesn't look contrite. "It's time for his next dose. Go sit down with him and I'll get the equipment ready."

 

"I wish I could say that I'm sorry I can't be what you want, but..."

 

"But you're not. Yes, I got the message." He shoos you out to the main sickbay the way he used to on Voyager.

 

You walk over to Liam who is staring up at you. "Think it's a good idea to alienate the man keeping me alive?"

 

"No. Sorry if that was unwelcome news. And that we woke you up."

 

"You didn't. Pain did."

 

"Where?"

 

He points to his head. As you scan him, he murmurs, "Those were really nice things you said about me."

 

"Shut up."

 

"For the record, it's those crispy Brussels sprouts with bacon and nuts, tuberose, medium well, which is why I only ever order you ribeye and you don't mind blue, and you take all your whiskey neat—but you prefer it with ice, so really you should just drink it that way. Now that you're captain, do that, okay?" He laughs softly. "Oh and I love your hair wavy. But, Seven, play him carefully. We need him and a sandbag of past sins weighs a ton when thrown at you by someone you love. Okay?"

 

"Play him carefully? Rather than take it easy on him?"

 

"You have every right to get him in the lane he needs to be traveling in. Just don't eviscerate him in the process." He meets your eyes. "I've been there. When I was younger. It really hurts."

 

"I'll be careful."

 

"Good girl." Then he reaches up and cradles his head in his palm. "Fuck, this really hurts."

 

"Doctor?" You meet his eyes as he comes rushing over. "His head." You give him the gentlest smile you can as you hand him the scanner.

 

He shakes his head as he works. "Yet another fun new side effect. Give me a minute, Captain Shaw, and I'll have that under control."

 

"You're saving my life. You can call me Liam if you want."

 

You're surprised and study him. He's playing the Doctor carefully too.

 

You're always learning from him. He can manipulate at Janeway skill level yet seems to lack the ensuing satisfaction she gets out of it. He just does it because it's prudent—will increase safety for his things and his people.

 

"Liam, then. Thank you for that. Here, this will help with the pain." He holds a hypospray to his neck and lets it go. "I'll monitor this for about fifteen minutes and then we need to get your next dose going."

 

"Okay. You're the expert." His voice is so gentle—way too gentle. Even a fool would know he's on to something.

 

And the Doctor is no fool. "Oh, fuck, you heard everything she said to me, didn't you?"

 

You try not to laugh—have you ever heard the doctor drop an f-bomb before?

 

"I did. Sorry. The headache woke me up and I was going to call for you, but you two seemed to need to hash that out."

 

"Well, a secret shared is a burden halved. Isn't that the old adage?"

 

You're not sure it is. You can see Liam's not either. But you both nod anyway.

 

Anything to keep him on your side—and more importantly, Liam's.

 

 

 

3.

 

Him

 

You wake and Seven is back on the stool. She's drinking something amber and it has ice in it.

 

"I took your advice," she says without looking up from her padd. "But there's not always ice to be had."

 

"Okay, but other times? Why not drink it the way you really like it?"

 

"Because there are too many liquor aficionados in the universe who believe you can only appreciate good booze if you drink it unadulterated." She finally meets your eyes. "They look down on you the minute you add ice. I hate to lose points before I've even started. But, when I feel like it, I'll put some ice in the glass. How's that?"

 

"That's good." He looks around for the Doctor.

 

"He's not here. He's offline. We only have to call and he'll show up, but he needed a break. From me, I guess."

 

"Maybe from us."

 

"Us?" She lifts her eyebrow and you realize you really love that expression. "Is there an us?"

 

"Well, we're a command team."

 

"Dysfunctional as hell."

 

You smile, remembering past missions. "We weren't though. Not before Picard."

 

"We argued before Picard." She rolls her eyes and goes back to her padd.

 

"Sure, but arguing is like foreplay for us." You've chosen that word deliberately. You want to see how she reacts.

 

She smiles but doesn't look up. "Well played, Captain Shaw. I'm wise to your ways though."

 

"So you're saying it's not foreplay?"

 

"I'm not saying anything at all about foreplay." She laughs and the sound is lighter than usual.

 

"So I guess I should stop talking about foreplay?"

 

"You can do whatever you want. You're the one suffering from what I did to you so I can't really complain if foreplay is the only word you seem to know tonight."

 

"I'm not suffering at the moment." You move around gingerly, trying to see if there's pain anywhere. "Except—why does my right knee hurt?"

 

"You were sleeping funny."

 

You just stare at her until she looks at you. "And you couldn't wake me up?"

 

"No. I tried, actually, but that last dose did you in. I moved your leg to a normal position and you put it right back the way you had it. There was a limit to how many times I wanted to try to rearrange your limbs." She gets up and walks around to the other side of the biobed then begins to massage the area around your knee. "Better?"

 

Honestly it's doing Jack shit for your knee but wonders for things above it. You can tell you're turning red. "Uh, no."

 

As she turns, you snap out, "Keep facing my toes, Seven. For your own sake."

 

She laughs softly. "What if I don't want to?"

 

"Well, then that's on you. I've done my part here."

 

She walks around the biobed without looking at your groin and sits back down, and you can't help but notice the very satisfied smile on her face. "Sorry my massage didn't help."

 

"Your massage was shit."

 

"Well, for your knee it was." Then she laughs again and meets your eyes; her look is both mischievous and slightly apologetic. "I'm sorry, Liam. I don't know what the hell I'm doing. I'm so fucking tired."

 

"Then get on one of these empty biobeds and go to sleep."

 

She shakes her head. "Not when side effects can pop up at any moment. I'm not going to have you die because I couldn't stay awake."

 

"Shaw to EMH."

 

The Doctor appears and you point at Seven. "You stay, she goes to sleep. Here, her quarters, I don't care where. But she's past exhausted." And why the hell do you have to tell this guy that? Is he hoping she'll suddenly love him if she gets tired enough? Or can he really not see how tired she is?

 

Maybe he has no idea how beat she is—that he's not seeing her the same way you are? You love that idea.

 

"Seven, do you want a biobed or your quarters?" The Doctor sounds more like a father than a hopeful lover.

 

"Go to your quarters, Hansen."

 

She meets your eyes and seems to understand you're using that name because you really need her to get some decent sleep.

 

You also don't want her sleeping here with the Doctor watching her. Not after the discussion they had earlier.

 

"I'll be in my quarters if you need me."

 

"Good night." You watch her leave then you look at the Doctor. "She's stubborn."

 

"Really? She just did exactly what you told her to do." The Doctor sits down on the stool. "About the hair..."

 

"Hey, I don't need to get in the middle of this."

 

"No, it's that every other women on the ship's command team—the very people who were probably going to teach her how to fix it—had straight hair. Back then the regulations were clear: long hair had to be up or it couldn't be long. Straight hair seemed like it would work better in a French twist. Which was the style that suited her classical features best."

 

You're not sure he's making this better with all the attention to detail, but you try to keep your expression neutral.

 

"You love her, don't you?" he asks very softly.

 

"Yes."

 

"What? No creative expletive for the occasion?" He looks miserable.

 

"No." You take a deep breath. "When I was younger, there was this junior officer I mentored. I had such a great time with her. It seemed a natural next step to ask her out. She let me down easy. Worst thing someone can do because then you think there's a chance."

 

"So you tried again?"

 

"And again, and again. I lost her as a friend and she found another mentor. I was lucky she didn't report me. She did verbally lay me out one night before she transferred off. Said all the things she'd been holding in. It hurt like hell." You gauge if he's resonating and he seems to be. "So I, uh, I know where you've been. But it's not territory I ever crossed again and I really suggest you don't either. Sometimes we don't get the girl."

 

"Where's a romantic comedy when you need one? The poor sap always gets the girl in those."

 

You shrug and give him your gentlest smile. You want him to hear your message, but you also want him to be kind to Seven because she clearly does love him, if not the way he wants, and you want him to keep taking care of you. "Sometimes, another girl shows up, though. Maybe it's time to give up."

 

"I'm a hologram. I'm not programmed to give up."

 

Well, that's fucking creepy. You decide to change the subject. "I slept weird. Can you check my right knee?"

 

The Doctor gets up and walks around the bed. He scans, then runs a regenerator over your knee and the joint stops aching. "How's that?"

 

"Perfect. Thanks." As he scans the rest of you, you ask, "When can I get out of this bed and walk around?"

 

"When I'm sure you aren't going to fall over at any moment with a new side effect."

 

"And how long do you think that'll be?"

 

"I really have no idea, Liam. The Jurati nanoprobes are, well..."

 

"Nuts?"

 

He laughs. "Not the word I'd have used. Unpredictable. Not unlike the woman who gave them to you." He pats you on the shoulder and goes back into the office.

 

You think he's wrong. Seven isn't unpredictable. Once you know her preferences for doing things her way, her reckless disregard for rules and diplomatic norms are pretty much par for the course. As is her loyalty and her bravery and the way she can throw back a verbal assault with added firepower. And the inherent sweetness inside her that you've barely scratched the surface of.

 

But really, really want to go deeper.

 

 

Her

 

You're in the mess, finally feeling human after a very long sleep.

 

Raffi walks up with a tray, a tentative smile on her face. "You said we could talk. I know it hasn't been the right time but you look good, like you actually slept."

 

"I did. And yeah, sit." You go back to eating as she settles in.

 

The silence starts out pleasant, but then it becomes loaded.

 

"So one of us should talk, right?" Raffi smiles the smile you never used to be able to resist. Kind of shy, kind of wry, very beautiful.

 

"I love you. I will always love you. But..."

 

"But you're in love with someone else? Did you really think I don't know that."

 

"If you know that, why did you want to talk?"

 

"Well, you're my friend and my captain. And my ex. And you've done something pretty drastic so of course you're in sickbay with him, and I want to be supportive, but...he made you pretty unhappy at times, if I remember conversations we had."

 

Yes, before you and Raffi stopped talking altogether, you did do some major bitching about Liam. "Somewhere along the line things changed."

 

"Well, I mean you've known him forever. He dropped everything to come."

 

"Who do you think we're talking about?"

 

"The Doctor. I guess he finally stalked you into a yes?"

 

You exhale in a raggedly angry way—how could she think that you'd...with him? "We are not talking about the fucking doctor."

 

"Whoa, tone. I've been out of the loop and that's your fault. I wasn't the one who went to radio silence."

 

You know this. She's right. And you went to radio silence right around the time you started finding common ground with the captain you weren't initially sure you could work for.

 

"If it's not the Doctor, then..." She frowns so deeply lines form between her eyebrow. "No."

 

"Who are we talking about now?"

 

"Shaw? I saw you with him when he died. I know you've been camped out in sickbay with him. But I thought that was solely because you needed to give him more blood. Fucking Shaw?"

 

You sigh and get up, taking her cup with you as you go to refill your coffee. You take extra long adding her sugar and milk.

 

She's watching you as you walk back. "Seven, why?"

 

There's no good answer for this. Anything you say will be taken as an indictment of your relationship with her. Liam makes you feel alive but that doesn't mean she didn't, when things were good.

 

Liam challenges you. But in a different way than she used to when she wanted you to be more communicative, more open to commitment. He makes you better; she just made you mad, at least at the end, when it was clear you could never become what she wanted.

 

And losing Liam made you feel utterly empty inside. In a way you've only experienced once before, with Icheb.

 

You think he's your person. You didn't even know you were looking for that, but here he is and you can't deny how he makes you feel.

 

Safe. But excited. He wasn't wrong about your arguing being foreplay. Some of your favorite fantasies go from an argument to a bed.

 

And he can be so much fun. You used to laugh a lot at your weekly dinners.

 

"I'd rather not share why. Okay?" You smile at her as gently as you can. "But I can share why I picked you for my first officer. It's because I trust you implicitly to have my back. I trust your decision making. I know you're going to look out for the ship and the crew. I know you and I complement each other."

 

"But you want him, not me. Were you and he together before?"

 

"No. I have no idea if we'll work or not." But you think maybe you will, this feels...different than any of your other lovers.

 

"Wow. Okay. So I guess I just need to cut down any expectation I had for maybe getting back together and move on too."

 

"Yeah, I guess so."

 

"Seven, when he was shot, when you were holding him, you were oblivious to what else was going on around you."

 

"I know." You think he would have been the same if you'd been shot instead of him.

 

"You would have died if I hadn't been there."

 

"I know that too." You take a sip of coffee; it's too hot, burns your mouth. "It was that there are feelings he and I never acknowledged much less explored. It was that I'd betrayed him, for Picard, and then got him killed for it. The last horrible thing to happen to him in a series of him being hurt. Because of me. I think I was at the end of my rope." You close your eyes and whisper, "I also felt her, when the junior officers were being turned—I felt the Queen, the same one I'd known in the Delta Quadrant, and I knew I couldn't fight her call. But then I felt the Jurati Queen. They were warring for me. Agnes won."

 

"Holy shit. I had no idea."

 

"I don't know what that means. If I owe her something."

 

"Agnes was all over the place there at the end but if she wanted something, I think she'd just come out and tell you. That you owe her, you know? I don't think she'd wait until you'd forgotten about how she saved you...again."

 

"Yeah, that makes sense." You breathe out, a long exhale of relief. "There are parts of my life only you know. Those are yours."

 

"Same."

 

"I don't want to forget those times. Push them away or anything. I value what we had for what it was: something beautiful. But maybe what we build now will be even better."

 

You can see she doubts it, but she says, "Maybe so."

 

And you love her so much for that.

 

 

Him

 

You're sitting up in bed and reading the padds Seven gave you when she walks in. She looks so much better. "You got sleep."

 

"I did."

 

You hand her one of the padds. "I thought these would be good areas for you to work on. Especially since they're implementing some Jurati tech in with the other stuff. You're the resident Borg expert when it comes to that."

 

"Yes, this would be fun." Her smile is genuine, but then she hands you back the padd and looks around as if checking to see who's within earshot.

 

"He's offline. Ohk's in her office."

 

"Oh, good. How mad are you really that I brought you back to life?"

 

"Tell me why you did it? Other than because you could." You grin.

 

She doesn't return it. You see the same look on her face that you did when you were dying. Lost, angry—guilty.

 

"Seven, it doesn't matter why you did it. Really. It's done and we never have to talk about it again."

 

"But we do. Because...if I hadn't brought you back, part of me would always have been lying there dead with you. And the rest of me, knowing that I brought this on you, that I changed our course to accommodate Picard and started all of this, well, I'm not sure what would have happened to that version of me."

 

You don't love how raw her voice is, how tears are welling up. "Seven—"

 

"No. I'm sorry that I took us there. I should have listened to you."

 

You take her left hand and run your fingers lightly over the exoskeleton. "If you had, we'd have been taken by surprise when the youngsters turned. We'd have all been killed. I was an acceptable loss, Hansen."

 

"Not to me. But I know what you say is logical. I know that would have happened. And maybe there would be no more Federation."

 

"The needs of the many. T'Veen would have told you that."

 

"I'm so sorry that she's gone. That I couldn't blow the lift."

 

"I knew when I told you to blow it that you wouldn't. One more order you'd choose to ignore." With a shrug, you lift her hand to your face and rub it against your cheek. You expect the Borg implant to be sharp and cold, but it's not, it's smooth and warm, like her.

 

"Tuvok showed me my officer review. I cried. Well, first I tried to resign before they could punish me. But he wanted me to watch it, so I did, and then I cried. You believed in me."

 

"I did. I do."

 

"That night in your quarters, when you told me how to spot a changeling, when you did your 'fake Shaw.' That wasn't fake, was it?"

 

You smile, remembering how it felt to say the truth to her and have her think it was a lie. "No, it wasn't fake. I always knew you'd make an excellent captain."

 

"If I do, it's because of the captains that I learned from."

 

"Especially me. Because I'm the finest captain you've ever served with."

 

"I'm going to regret having said that, aren't I?"

 

You laugh and nod. "I sure won't though. It was nice to hear."

 

"I meant every word. You're also a huge dick, but that didn't support the point I was making so..."

 

You laugh. There's your girl. Finding the snark in this moment of connection.

 

She's smiling as big as you are, laughing softly, and you pull her hand to your lips and kiss it gently then let it go.

 

She just stares at you, affection so clear on her face and you feel safe and seen and free to be yourself with her. God knows, she's seen you at your worst.

 

"I think I'm kind of glad you saved me, Seven."

 

"Yeah?"

 

"Yeah."

 

"When will you be sure?"

 

"I don't know but I'll let you know when I am."

 

Her smile is sweet and accepting and beautiful. "Okay."

 

 

 

4.

 

Her

 

You walk into sickbay and stop in horror, staring at the bed Liam was in a few short hours ago. The bed looks as if it hasn't been used, a blanket neatly folded at the bottom like on all the other beds.

 

Like no one was ever in it.

 

You can feel yourself starting to tremble, and then you call out, "Liam?" Then louder, "Liam!"

 

The Doctor walks out from the deputy's office, takes one look at you, and rushes over. "It's all right. He's walking with Ohk. He was going stir crazy, and we thought it would do him good—maybe tire him out and make him less, well, him."

 

"He's alive?" You can barely see the Doctor and it takes you a stupidly long time to realize it's because you're crying.

 

He draws you into his arms and you don't fight him. You just let him hold you as you weep.

 

"My, my," he murmurs as he strokes your hair. "This is really quite serious, isn't it?"

 

You nod against his chest.

 

"I don't remember you ever crying like this before."

 

You ease away. "Don't tell him I did."

 

"I think it would make him happy to know how much you care. How hard it hit you seeing an empty bed."

 

The door opens and you hear Ohk laughing at something Liam says so you turn to him.

 

He takes one look at your face and the tears you forgot to wipe away and says, "God damn it," and he's striding way too fast toward the Doctor. "What did you do to her?"

 

You jump between them. "No!"

 

He stops, staring down at you.

 

"No, Liam, it's not what you think. I came in, saw the empty bed, and thought the worst. He was setting me straight and having to deal with me being a weepy child over you. That's all."

 

"You were weepy...over me?"

 

You nod. "In my defense, it's been a really shitty week."

 

You can feel the Doctor and Ohk easing away, leaving you two alone, as he laughs gently and pulls you into his arms and holds you.

 

"Do you need to cry more?"

 

"No. It wasn't that shitty. But this is nice." You wrap your arms around him, more tightly than you think you ever have around a partner, not just physically but symbolically: you do not want to let go of him. Not ever.

 

"Next time I'll leave a note."

 

"Yeah, you big dick, that would be nice." You feel his lips on your hair, the puff of air as he laughs at your words, the feeling of his hands running down your back in a way that's nothing but comfort.

 

And love.

 

"Seven, I saw you with him, crying, and I wanted to kill him."

 

"Well, fortunately, even if you'd tried, he's a hologram, so..."

 

He leans in so his mouth is over your ear, "Do not think that would stop me if I needed to. If you ever felt unsafe."

 

You realize he's serious, that there is nothing he won't do for you, and you like that feeling. You like it so much. But you whisper into his ear, "He was just being kind. And it was nice. He was the Doctor I used to know."

 

"Good." Then he lets out an enormous yawn. "Fuck, a few times up and down the corridor and I'm zonked."

 

"You'll get stronger." You ease out of his arms and help him, even though he doesn't need it, to the bed.

 

You get him covered up and he's out fast.

 

The Doctor comes over to you. "Thank you for your intervention."

 

"I care about you. And you were just being kind, right?"

 

"Yes, actually. I was just being that. He's not a bad man, this captain of yours."

 

"No, he's really not."

 

 

 

Him

 

You wake and hear Ohk and the Doctor talking, so you keep your eyes closed in case they're talking about something you should know but they'll never tell you.

 

But they're not talking about you.

 

"I saw that they had the donut you like in the cafeteria," the Doctor says.

 

"They run out of these so fast. Thank you." Then there's the contented sounds she makes when she is eating something she loves.

 

"I may have gotten there quite early to acquire this. Is that...creepy?"

 

"Is what creepy?"

 

"That I know what kind of donut you like? That I went early just to get it?"

 

"No, you're observant. It's why I like working with you. You miss nothing."

 

"But the going early? Too much?"

 

"Next time." Her voice is pitched in an interesting way—you wonder if the Doctor will catch it. "Get me two. Now, how is our boy doing?"

 

You make "just waking up sounds" so they won't know you were eavesdropping on them. "Morning," you mumble.

 

Then you realize as you stretch that nothing hurts. You just feel like you finally. "I feel...good."

 

"Your vitals look good too, Liam." Ohk is still eating her donut, letting the Doctor do all the actual work and she grins at you.

 

She's strong, well adjusted, and nearly impossible to mold in any way she doesn't want to be molded. You decide if she and the Doctor are getting friendly, you don't have a problem with it.

 

You would like a donut though. "How come I don't get one of those?"

 

"Because you are not that important to me, Liam." The Doctor winks at you. "But if you tell me your favorites, I will get you one the next time I go."

 

"Does that mean I can have coffee now? And I like maple bars. If there aren't any of those, an old fashioned"

 

"No, you cannot have coffee unless it's decaf."

 

"Ohk...?"

 

"He knows this process better than I do, Liam. Sorry." She leans down and kisses your cheek then goes back to her office.

 

The Doctor turns to you, a bit of panic on his face, so you hold up your hand and say, "Worked with her on and off for years. Nothing going on between us. That kiss was just friendly."

 

"Oh. Yes. Thank you, Liam."

 

"Now can I have regular coffee?"

 

"I'm not denying you coffee to be mean. I really do not want to add caffeine to the mix right now. Especially when you're doing so well. Please, just...behave for a while. I know it's difficult but I don't want to have to tell Seven I failed you because I went soft on the rules."

 

You exhale noisily. "Fine."

 

You hear a cough at the door and see Raffi. The Doctor cocks his head and says, "May I help you?"

 

"I'm Musiker. My friends call me Raffi."

 

"And am I your friend?" the Doctor doesn't back down in the face of the implacable amazon thing she has going and you give him credit. But then he faced down Janeway on the regular so...

 

"Sure, why not." She walks over to you. "Can you give us the room, Doc?"

 

"Are you going to hurt him? I know you and Seven were involved."

 

"I might like to, but no, I'll be good."

 

"Liam? Should I stay and supervise?" He actually looks worried for you.

 

You're touched. "Nyah, we're fine." You meet her eyes. "We are fine, right?"

 

She waits until the Doctor has gone and pulls up a stool. "You tell me, Captain Shaw. How fine are we?"

 

"I know we're going to be serving together. Do you have a problem with that." Best to go on the offensive with someone like her, and you're a big enough asshole to do it.

 

"I question it."

 

"As I question you being first officer."

 

"Wow. She did not say you were this ballsy." She actually laughs. "Do you? Question that?"

 

"Not really, no. You were super impressive during that briefing with Worf. Seven can be a living action figure when she feels like it but it's her brain that makes her special. Her problem solving skills, her ability to quickly analyze data, see what's coming. She wouldn't pick anyone who couldn't keep up with her intellectually for any important role in her life—personal or professional. Which tells me you are also someone who can figure shit out."

 

She smiles.

 

"But you must provide something she's missing. Because she's smart that way too. She knows how to fill gaps."

 

"I'm better with people."

 

"Is that because of the swords or..."

 

She laughs again. "The swords are pretty new actually. Different backgrounds. I know what people want. She assumes they want what she does. Different things most of the time."

 

"Yeah."

 

"What do you bring to the team, Captain?"

 

"Well, I can annoy her like no one else on this ship."

 

She laughs again and you can tell it's pissing her off a little that she finds you funny. "Noted."

 

"I care about safety. I'm cautious when she's reckless. I'll call her on bullshit."

 

"Even once you're sleeping with her? I assume you're not yet?"

 

"I don't know that I will be."

 

"Oh, come on. You were claiming her during that briefing you were so impressed at."

 

"What are you talking about?"

 

"You had your hand on her chair. It was...possessive."

 

"Oh, that wasn't about you. That was about your former boss who kept stealing her loyalty away from me."

 

"JL? You think he notices that kind of thing? That's why he had me on his staff. To see all the gooey interpersonal things he just didn't."

 

"Well, damn. Useless message then."

 

"Not really. She let you. She didn't even react."

 

"Maybe she didn't know. I had my hand on the back of her chair, not her back."

 

"Believe me. Her situational awareness is at times terrifying. I think it's a Borg thing—knowing where you are vis-a-vis other drones on a crowded cube. So if she let you keep your hand on her chair it was because she didn't mind." She looks down. "But that might have been for me."

 

"She's not that cruel."

 

"She is when she wants to shut something down."

 

You think back to how she laid into the EMH. Maybe she is. But you're that way too. You two tore each other to bits when you should have been presenting a united front to Vadic and your bridge crew. You lost T'Veen amid an argument over her blowing a lift you never thought she'd really blow and you not calling her a name she knew you wouldn't use.

 

You sigh. "I didn't mean it to be that. For what it's worth."

 

"I believe you. So, why I'm really here is that we need to figure out how we can work together—with Ohk—to make her the best captain in the Fleet."

 

"Interesting council of advisors. Like from the Island of Misfit Toys."

 

"And sadly I know that reference. I have a granddaughter who loves that show." Joy shines from her face and she looks radiant. You wonder how Seven walked away from her.

 

But you're glad that she did.

 

"I'm not opposed to working with you and Ohk on that. Seeing Seven succeed will be sweet."

 

"Yes. Yes it will."

 

 

 

5.

 

Her

 

You come in the next morning to find everyone eating donuts. Liam is happily devouring a maple bar and he points to a container.

 

"Sadly, Seven, I don't know your preference." The Doctor shares a wry look with you.

 

"I do," Liam says between bites. "Bear claws."

 

"Oh, good, I got one of those for the name alone." He lifts the lid and you pull out your favorite pastry.

 

"Mmmm." You bite into it and it hits the spot. Then you realize Liam has a mug of something dark. "Is that coffee?"

 

"Don't get excited. It's decaf." He makes a face but you see Ohk pointing to her office, mouthing, "Regular's in here."

 

You try to bite back a smile but fail.

 

"What?" He looks around. "What am I missing?"

 

"Nothing."

 

"God damn it, Ohk, you said you were drinking decaf too."

 

Ohk ducks into her office and comes out with a cup for you.

 

"She fucking lied to me." Liam sounds more than a little cranky. "I'm sick of being here."

 

"When you finish your pastry, you can take a walk with Seven." The Doctor's voice is the one you remember from when he was really tired of a particular patient's whining. "Won't that be nice?"

 

"Okay." He grumbles something you can't pick up.

 

You decide to ignore him and just enjoy the bear claw. "How early did you have to get to the mess to find these?" you ask the Doctor. "They run out fast."

 

"I got there very early." You see him trade a smile with Ohk, and you look at Liam to see if he noticed, but he's still busy muttering to himself about lack of caffeine and being bored.

 

You'll ask him on the walk.

 

Once you've finished your donuts, the two of you head out and he seems to breathe a sigh of relief to be free of sickbay, even if it's only temporarily.

 

"What's really wrong?"

 

"I want to go to the gym. They won't let me."

 

"Give it time."

 

"Yeah, that's the answer to everything." He walks a little faster, as if he's trying to lose you in the corridor of the ship you both know like the back of your hand.

 

"Hey, Captain Grumpy." You slip into a side corridor and wait for him to come back to you. When he does, you turn him so he's leaning against the wall and then move closer. Very slowly.

 

"Well, this is more fun already."

 

You smile and you know it's a mischievous one. Not one you can fake and he'll be aware of that. "You've never kissed me, Captain Shaw. Don't you think you should remedy that?"

 

"I really do, Captain Seven." He draws you the rest of the way to him, and you're a good match height wise, neither of you has to strain.

 

His lips on yours are so soft, so gentle, and you let him set the pace. He needs to be in control of something right now. Even if it's just this.

 

He's a nice kisser, not messy, not rough and you imagine how his lips will feel other places, when he's stronger. You think he uses his mouth the same way he does his hands, with intent and skill, and that thought makes you moan.

 

His kisses aren't so soft now, his tongue touches your lips and you open them, let him in, sighing at the feeling of being this close to him.

 

Finally.

 

He moans as you push him harder against the wall, as you grind gently into him. He finally pushes you away so he can look at you. Not for the first time, you're mesmerized by his eyes, the way they change color. You know they're technically gray but today they look blue.

 

"I want you so fucking bad, Seven."

 

"I want you, too. Maybe we could just do a little if we sneak—"

 

A low—disappointed—cough sounds from the end of the corridor. Ohk and the Doctor are both standing there, arms crossed, wearing twin looks of disapproval.

 

"Vitals were elevated. Now we know why, Doctor." Ohk shakes her head and points back in the direction of sickbay.

 

"Goddamn it, Hansen. It's your ship, tell them to fuck off."

 

"It's my ship, but it's your life. If you're not cleared for this, you're not cleared." You feel bad for starting something you can't finish.

 

"Hate this."

 

"I know. But I can sit in bed with you and go over engineering schematics."

 

This time it's the Doctor who coughs.

 

"I can't even sit in bed with him? For fuck's sake."

 

"You tell 'em," Liam says under his breath.

 

"Fine, if you two can figure out a way that does not involve climbing all over each other to share a biobed, then sure, go for it." Ohk says as she and the Doctor back up, leaving a path for you and Liam to return to sickbay like chastised children.

 

They don't follow you back in.

 

"What's with them?" you ask Liam as he gets onto the bed and moves over, leaving you room.

 

"I think they're sweet on each other. Wait a goddamn minute. Where are they?"

 

"Out there, I guess."

 

"Yeah but doing what?" He practically pushes you off the bed. "Go look."

 

You sneak-run to the door and peek out. Ohk has the Doctor pushed up against the wall and is kissing him very vigorously. You don't know whether to call them on it or let them be.

 

"What are they doing?" Liam asks.

 

You turn and go back to the bed. "What we were."

 

"Awww, that's so sweet."

 

As you climb back into the bed, you say, "Do you mean that or are you just glad to have him not after me."

 

"Can't it be both?"

 

"I guess it can."

 

"If it were just anyone but Ohk."

 

You frown. "She's your friend."

 

"That she is. I've watched her for quite a while. She's...hard to pin down, romantically I mean."

 

"So am I. Yet here I am sitting on a biobed waiting to go over engineering schematics just to cheer you up."

 

"You'd enjoy doing that anyway."

 

"Well she looked like she was enjoying doing him—if you know what I mean."

 

"Yeah. I do." But he looks worried.

 

You chalk it up to just more of his grumpiness and pull over some padds so you can lose yourself in planning how you're going to implement the design changes.

 

 

 

Him

 

Later, after Seven has gone and the Doctor's gone offline for a while, you motion Ohk over. "What are you doing?"

 

"I'm being a doctor. Do you not know me? Is this another side effect?" She gives you the look she's been giving you for years: the one that says to mind your own business.

 

It's a look you've been ignoring for years on behalf of innocents everywhere. "I mean with the Doctor."

 

She rolls her eyes.

 

"Listen, it's just, you know, you tend to do things on a lark. And as ephemeral as he may appear, I don't think he does larks."

 

"Also rebound. Go ahead and say it, because I know you're thinking it."

 

"Well you did spend a year specializing in them."

 

"I had to get my drama somehow—that assignment was so boring." She pulls up a stool and sits down next to your bed. "He was never with Seven so they never broke up so technically this is not a rebound."

 

"Okay, I accept that argument. But lark?"

 

"What if this isn't? A lark, I mean. You know I'm not the most...approachable person in the whole world."

 

"Or even on this ship."

 

"Exactly. I like things how I like them. I don't really want to have to explain why I like to spend so much time here instead of cuddling up next to some cutie pie who wants everything."

 

"He's going to want everything."

 

"I know. But he'll want a lot of it here, in sickbay. And he can go offline. Time doesn't have to pass for him if I need a break."

 

"That is so fucking cold."

 

"He's the one who brought it up. That he does that. When he needs a break. That somehow it's restorative—like sleep for us only without the dreams. I'm just extrapolating from that." She frowns at you. "Since when do you give a rat's ass what happens to him? You were about to take his holographic head off when Seven was crying."

 

"I just...I feel sort of..."

 

"Awww, are you finding another person to be a protector for? You really are the sweetest man underneath that crusty exterior."

 

"Shut up."

 

"He won't be here forever, Liam. I'm sure it'd be great to take it slow but if I want to enjoy him—find out what it's like with a photonic being—I've got to do it while you're still having the fun new side effects that keep him here."

 

"Do you like him? I mean beyond the curiosity factor?"

 

"I do."

 

You take a deep breath. "Tell Seven you want him as your deputy."

 

Her face falls and you once again wish she would, just once, not play with people's emotions.

 

"You don't want that?"

 

"If it doesn't work out, he's here for the duration. And how often do I do long term?"

 

"Then you make it damn clear to him that this is not that."

 

"Liam, he knows." She shakes her head. "Worry about your own thing."

 

"Worry why? Is there something wrong with my thing—is there something wrong with me? Is that why you stopped me today in the corridor. Can I not do it anymore?"

 

"You are so over dramatic. I just mean, stay in your lane."

 

"You are my lane. One of them. You're my friend and a menace to easily breakable hearts everywhere."

 

"He seems fine with it, but I will make sure—extra, super duper sure—that he understands what I'm offering and what I'm not, all right?"

 

"All right. Thanks."

 

"Busybody." She leaves you and you lean back, exhausted as you always are when dealing with her on a personal basis. Professionally, she's a gem. So much so that no one would ever guess the broken hearts left strewn in her wake.

 

You just thank God yours was never one of them.

 

 

 

6.

 

Her

 

You're sitting with Raffi on the bridge—the others are all off at various training things or on leave, and it's not like you need them since you're in space dock and the ship is in no shape to make a break for it if you run into more changelings or some other danger. It feels sort of nice, knowing that even if another emergency comes up, you can't possibly answer it.

 

Fuck. Did you just jinx yourself?

 

You murmur, "I take that out of the law." It's a Ranger superstition and ritual, the undoing of a jinx, of something stated or thought that basically dares the universe to show you how wrong you are.

 

Raffi has heard you say it many times before and doesn't even react. You both sit slouched down in your chairs, eating ice cream from huge containers the way you used to do when you were together.

 

"So he's pissy?" she asks.

 

"Oh my God. If Ohk and the Doctor don't cut him some slack soon, there will be murder. Possibly just from the swear words that are going to come out of his mouth."

 

"He knows it's for his own good, yeah?"

 

"Yeah. And I'm not making it better since—" Shit should you be telling her this?

 

"Since what? He wants to jump your bones and you don't make it easy for him not to? But sexy times are on the 'not allowed' list too?"

 

Or maybe she knows you well enough that you really can tell her anything. "Yes."

 

"Yeah, that would suck. I feel so bad for him." She's smiling in the way you love best, the teasing smile when she's gotten the better of you, but in the sweetest way.

 

You laugh but then it fades away as you think of how bored Liam truly is, how restless and how it's only a matter of time before he rebels. "I ran into Jack the other day. He's bored shitless at OCS. Testing out of everything. Done with his homework before classes are even over. So I told him to come up some evening and keep Liam company."

 

"Jack? Jack Crusher? You do want Liam to get well, right?"

 

"Take Picard out of the mix and I think they'll get along well. It was the two of them who figured out that the Changelings were tracking us and how. Ohk told me Liam was asking Jack how the changeling were finding us while he was basically dying from internal bleeding." Ohk also told you how Beverly stepped in, how she had underestimated the older woman's utility and the severity of Liam's injuries, and how bad she felt about it. You love that she was willing to share a moment that did not make her look good; it helps you trust her more.

 

"Well, no one can say that your boy doesn't have impressive multitasking skills and dedication to the mission. Maybe Jack will be okay for him. But if one or both of them end up dead, it's on you."

 

"Accepted." You go quiet for a moment, then say, "What would you think of having Jack on this ship? He's more than a little adrift."

 

"As what? We don't have a crimes and misdemeanors section."

 

"But maybe we should." You laugh at her expression. "Look, he understands how things work in a way most people, who aren't you, don't. I wouldn't mind having a fixer."

 

"In the mafia, you'd call him your consigliere. I don't suggest you put that as the official job title though. Starfleet will for sure get suspicious. Maybe your new boy toy can figure out a good 'could mean anything' job title. He seems like the kind who knows how to work the system."

 

"He is."

 

"He's also funnier than I thought he would be."

 

"I know. It was a shock at first. He's so..."

 

"Stick up the ass."

 

"I was going to say 'rigid,'"

 

"Same diff." She laughs at your expression. "But he's hilarious."

 

"He really is. And once you're one of his people, Raff, he'll do anything for you."

 

"Yeah but he's not captain so I won't be his person."

 

You shoot her a look.

 

"Okay, he's not captain, but this is still so much his ship, and I'm on the ship, so I'm one of his people. And you want that from an engineer. If they're not a little in love with your ship, you're fucked."

 

"True. I learned that from B'Elanna. I approached a job with my brain generally, and she would tell me to treat the engines with love. Well, not that exact wording because she's half Klingon and we didn't get along at all at first. But that was the overall message."

 

"Have you broken the news to him yet? About the ship's name change?"

 

"No, and I've threatened to keel haul anyone who knows who does."

 

She rolls her eyes. "You know you can't keel haul someone in space, right?"

 

"That has never been fully proven."

 

Raffi just laughs and goes back to her ice cream.

 

You finish yours and lean your head back. "It's nice to have this all to ourselves. Weird without the others, but nice."

 

"It is. You gonna put Crusher in the extra seat, then?"

 

"Why not? It's not like it has an actual use and I know Liam won't want to be up here. I really do think he'll be happier than he's been in a long while now that he'll be with his engines."

 

The lift doors open and Jack walks out. "Hi. I thought I'd come tonight if that's okay?"

 

"Your timing is impeccable." You wave him forward. "What's in the bag, though?"

 

He crouches down and unpacks some kind of portable game console, a bottle of scotch, lots of chocolate bars, several types of jerky, a huge bag of caramel corn, a bookstore padd, movie and music padds with fancy headphones, and some Cuban cigars and a lighter.

 

Raffi starts to laugh. "Jesus, are you paying a visit to the recovering guy or trying to get him to marry you?"

 

"I may be overcompensating. He died because of me. And you said he was bored."

 

You're charmed by the gifts and his earnestness but grab the Scotch, the cigars and lighter, and the chocolates. At Raffi's look, you say, "Chocolate has caffeine, the darker the chocolate the higher it is. I already tried to take him his favorite super dark and it was promptly confiscated by Ohk."

 

"Will she give it back?" Raffi actually seemed concerned. "No chocolate on top of no coffee? That's harsh."

 

"No booze is harsher," Jack says with a laugh.

 

"I stay off it—for reasons." Her voice is easy, like she's trying to tell him in the kindest way possible that she can't drink anymore.

 

"Oh, sorry, I didn't even think."

 

"It's okay. Why should you have?"

 

You like his recovery—and hers.

 

"He can have wine or beer, but not harder stuff. Okay let me check this..." You reach for the jerky and check the sodium content; it's not too bad, so you let him leave it in. You know he's going to be repeating this for Ohk and/or the Doctor when he gets down to sickbay.

 

He looks resigned. "Well, keep this other stuff until he can have it. Or who knows, maybe we'll grow on each other so much that I can give them to him myself when he's finally cleared for them."

 

"Or you can do it when you're on the ship. I mean if you want to be on the ship?"

 

"You would want me on this ship? Your ship?"

 

"I'm shocked too, Crusher," Raffi says.

 

"Do you want to be on this ship, Jack?"

 

"Yes." There's no extra words, no sparkling charm, no attempt to work a better deal. And that's how you know he's unhappy—truly unhappy.

 

You've been there. You don't want him to have to go through it if you can help him. That it's a way that helps you both just makes it sweeter. "Let me see what I can do. Don't tell Liam though."

 

"Don't tell anyone," Raffi says, threat heavy in her voice.

 

He doesn't look the least bit scared. "Mum's the word."

 

 

 

Him

 

You hear familiar footsteps and say, "No fucking way," then see Crusher walk into sickbay.

 

"Hello, Sir."

 

"Hiya."

 

The Doctor rushes out. "What is in that bag?"

 

"Wow, it's like he's a national treasure or something." But he lets the Doctor look.

 

"This is marginal." He's holding packages of what looks like jerky. "But...I'll allow it if"—he turns to you—"you promise to limit yourself to one bag per day. No more."

 

"Jerky doesn't have caffeine."

 

"But it does have sodium," Ohk says coming out from her office.

 

"Indeed." The Doctor shares a sweet look with her and you hope to fuck she's got him on the same page as her. But it's out of your hands now, and you're smart enough to know when to leave shit alone.

 

"I promise."

 

The Doctor puts it back in the bag. "And your name, young man?"

 

"Oh, come on. He's Jack fucking Crusher."

 

"Ohhhhhh. Why are you here to see him?"

 

"Because I bloody well want to."

 

You purse your lips and nod. That's the right attitude to take with this bullshit.

 

The Doctor actually backs off just a bit. "I'm sorry for the intrusiveness. We just..."

 

"Care?"

 

"Well, that might be overstating things." The delivery is so perfect you have to laugh. The Doctor smiles like he got a great one over on you then follows Ohk into her office.

 

"Well, Liam, you're locked up tighter than a princess's knickers."

 

"You've obviously not met the same princesses I have."

 

"Oh, do tell." He looks at the stool you point to and just mutters, "No." Then he yells, "Oy, can we sit at the table?"

 

Ohk answers this time. "Only if he keeps his feet up."

 

"Fine, yeah, we can do that." He rolls his eyes but seems to be watching whether you need help or not getting off the biobed.

 

You don't. "Why do we need a table?"

 

"A. I want to piss them off. B. You'll see."

 

Well, he's as annoying as ever. You're glad some things don't change. He points to a chair and drags another one closer for you to put your feet up on. Then he sits and starts unpacking the bag.

 

"Holy fuck. What is all this?"

 

"Guilt, primarily." He grins at you, but his eyes aren't smiling so you know he's not just joking. This is guilt.

 

"Jack, you didn't ask for any of what happened to you. It was in your goddamned genes. What do you have to be guilty for? Moreover, how many times did you try to give yourself up for my ship? We're okay."

 

He smiles but again, it doesn't meet his eyes.

 

"And I can see you might need some time to believe that. So I'm going to keep all this stuff because I have not seen a lot of these movies." You scroll through the contents and smile. Hours of fun. None of these are available on the Starfleet streaming app. "Thank you."

 

"Some are my favs. Some are Sidney's. Alandra had input."

 

"The whole fam." You pick up the game console. "God, I have not seen one of these in years."

 

"I know. Growing up, we were constantly on the run. To the point where I slept in my regular clothes in case we had to bolt in the night. I had a bag I kept by my bed or carried everywhere with me. All the things that were precious. This was always in it. But...I've never played it in any mode than single player. And I thought maybe you might be bored enough to play something with me. But if not, that's fine too. I can just leave it with you and you can do single player."

 

You hand it back—or try to. He won't take it. "Jack, I'm not taking this."

 

"You have to. At least until you're sprung from this place. I reset all the stats and everything."

 

You can see you're not going to win this. "Well, let's play then." So many options. "I don't like chess much."

 

"Me either."

 

"I would have thought you'd be great at it."

 

"I am, but I still don't like it."

 

You nod since you feel pretty much the same way about the game. "Backgammon?"

 

"Sure."

 

You lay the game console out flat and it becomes a backgammon board. You realize you're grinning like a little kid. How sad is your life that a game of backgammon is probably going to be the high point of your week?

 

Actually one game turns into two, turns into five. You've got the package of caramel corn open and Ohk keeps coming over and taking handfuls of it until you finally tell her to get a container and you pour her some.

 

The Doctor cruises by every so often, trying to act casual but failing. He leaves you alone though.

 

After his last pass, you lean in and say very softly, "I do want to play more, Jack, but do you still have access to medical records on this ship?" He did when he was helping out in sickbay so you hope that hasn't changed. "Something's been worrying me."

 

He pulls out a padd. "Okay, what is it?"

 

"Am I..." you point down to your groin. "I just want to know if things are going to work."

 

"For a certain ex-Borg we both know?"

 

"Maybe."

 

"Oh come on. You two have mad chemistry. Even when you fight. Especially when you fight."

 

"Yeah, it's like foreplay for us."

 

"I don't want to know the details. But..." He looks surprised and then starts moving screens and checking other results.

 

"God damn it, Jack, how bad is it?"

 

"It's not bad at all. I'm just making sure your heart can stand all the exercise it's going to get." He closes up the screens and puts the padd back in his pocket. "And it will. But keep going to the gym."

 

"They won't let me. I'm going to lose all my muscle tone and she won't want me."

 

"Mate, she'd want you no matter what. You two are gone on each other. Okay, so I don't want to spoil your first time as a reborn man—whenever the medical guard dogs you have here let that finally happen—but let's just say the refractory period is probably going to be super short. Multiple times maybe. Whatever they used to bring you back—I think you're going to want to thank them."

 

"Yeah? I mean I'm in my fifties."

 

"Not all of you is."

 

You laugh like a teen. "Thank you. I was so worried."

 

"It really is the least I can do. Now, I need to catch up and make this three-three."

 

He does, and six games turns to eight that turn to ten.

 

You're five to five, and you want to go on, but you're yawning so frequently that Jack folds up the board before you can reset it and pushes it toward you.

 

"Time for bed, sir."

 

"I'm sorry."

 

"Don't be sorry. That was fun." He stares down at the table and his whole body language shifts.

 

"What's wrong?"

 

"Is what I did ever going to go away? You're the only one of the people I killed that I can actually apologize to." He looks at you and his eyes are welling up. "The Queen told me it would be a perfect world. I thought I was creating a perfect world. Not...not what I did." He looks down as if the table is the most interesting thing in the universe.

 

You grab his chin, force him to look at you. "You didn't kill anyone. You were being used by a fucking monster who planned this long ago, before you were even born."

 

"I hear people call me the Borg Prince, though."

 

"And some call me Ten of Ten. I hate that fucking name but I don't ever let them know it. Because, listen, in life there are changing moments. They demarcate our life forever. There's life before them and life after and that's how you'll think of it."

 

"For you it's Wolf 359?"

 

You nod. "And for you it's this. You will never be the same cocky boy who showed up on my ship. You're a man now who's gone through some shit and feels really super bad about it. And that's good. If you didn't feel bad, then you'd be a sociopath."

 

"Does it get better?"

 

"Do you remember how I acted in Ten-Forward? Does it look like it gets better?"

 

"Jesus. Thanks for the pep talk."

 

"Wait, I'm not done. There's two versions of us now. The ones who lived before and the ones who deal with it all after. If better is going back to who we were, then no, we can't do that. But there is a strength—a beauty, even—to walking on a road you know is laced with landmines and still saying, 'Fuck you, universe. Bring it.' So do that. Be that Jack Crusher, because I think you're just a little bit extraordinary, and if you repeat that to anyone, I'll blame the pain meds I'm no longer on."

 

He laughs and wipes his eyes. "Thank you, Captain."

 

"You called me Liam earlier—probably to piss me off. Now, you can do it because I want you to."

 

"Thanks, Liam." He looks down, at your hand where it's resting on the game console—and shaking.

 

Shit you really must be beat. You haven't had a tremor for a while.

 

"I almost forgot. I noticed your tremor in Ten-Forward that day. When I was little, and the nightmares would come, I'd just stay up. And I had this weird twitch thing happening with my eye and it was so annoying. I really wanted a dog—and my mother knew it would probably help me with the stress—but you stand out if you're two people trying to look no conspicuous but are bringing along a big dog." He digs something out of his pocket. "So she gave me this. My virtual dog—only it can be a cat or a bird or a hamster or whatever. It's uh black market—but she had it checked for any malware and there's none. Funny thing, Seven made me show her what was in the bag, but she forgot to ask if I had anything in my pockets, so maybe don't tell her where you got it."

 

"I don't think I want to lie to her. I just won't tell her it's black market. She won't know which virtual pet apps are registered and which aren't." You hand it back to him. "But I'm not taking your virtual pet."

 

"You have to. I completely wiped it. My eye hasn't twitched since the Queen died. So I don't need it. And maybe someday I'll get a real dog."

 

"What kind of dog did you have?"

 

"English setter. His name was Charles and I loved him. He was my only friend sometimes. What kind are you going to get?"

 

"I may get a cat. Their purrs are good for your heart."

 

"Well, there you go. See, it's medically necessary." He stands. "I understand if you don't want me to come back—you don't have to—"

 

"Ooh, are you chicken shit? Afraid you can't take me, just gonna leave it tied so you don't have to lose? I see how it is."

 

He laughs. "Tomorrow I'm busy with Sidney but the next night? I'll skunk you."

 

"Wrong terminology but I look forward to it."

 

"Me too."

 

 

 

7.

 

Her

 

You walk through the ship and it's empty, with a smell and a feel you can only compare to a Borg cube. Humid, warm, and devoid of...individuality.

 

A clanking sound is ahead of you so you turn back, but two drones block your way. Behind you there are footsteps, then you hear a very familiar voice say, "Resistance is futile, my love."

 

"Liam?" you whisper, turning to see he's a drone and his assimilation tube is extended.

 

"You did this to me," he says as he slams it through your heart.

 

You jerk awake. "Fuck." This isn't the first time you've had this dream.

 

Liam is getting better, day by day for a week with less side effects to the infusion, and yet you can't shake this...terror that you've done something horrible to him.

 

You want to go to him, to check to make sure he's all right, but you did that the last two times you had the nightmare and only served to freak him out a little since you were behaving so strangely.

 

This will never stop unless you face the nightmare head on. You sit at your desk in front of the terminal and put in the code for the Jurati collective.

 

Your deepest fear is that whoever answers will know you, will see you as some kind of sibling, but they do not. Agnes has tweaked the changes that occur to her Borg. They are less gray, less...frightening.

 

No doubt it's easier to attract new members when you don't terrify them.

 

"I need to speak to Agnes." You think few will call her that—that perhaps the person who's answered won't even know who that is—but he just says, "Who should I say is calling?"

 

"Seven of Nine."

 

He visibly shrinks back. Clearly there is no love for traditional Borg in the Jurati.

 

"Or Annika Hansen. She'll know me either way."

 

"Hold, please."

 

A moment later she is there, looking the same as she did the last time you saw her. Her smile is somewhere between the beautiful openness of Agnes and the menace of the Queen. "Hello, Seven."

 

"Agnes." You have her in front of you but are afraid to ask her the question. Instead you look away.

 

"Speak, child. You must have had a reason to call us after all this time?"

 

"I used nanoprobes to bring someone back to life. Did I make him part of the Jurati?"

 

"If he donated blood to someone, would it make them part of his family?"

 

"His blood doesn't resurrect the dead."

 

"Fair point. No, he's just alive, thanks to the marvel that is us—and you."

 

You breathe out air you didn't realize you were holding. You haven't destroyed him.

 

"Next time, Seven, start the conversation with 'Hello. How are you. Long time no see.'" It is Agnes's voice and you smile at hearing it. Then it switches back to the more layered sound of their combined voice. "We find it works better to get what you want. But we know you have...challenges with these things so we'll let it go."

 

"Are you well?"

 

"We are. We have many members. We invent and we explore and we reunite to share our discoveries. It is...invigorating. And we are never alone."

 

"I'm glad."

 

"Congratulations on your promotion. It was short sighted of Starfleet to deny you membership when you first asked but satisfying to see you rising so quickly now that you are in."

 

"Thank you. It was...unexpected."

 

"Does Raffi prosper as well?"

 

"Yes. She's my first officer."

 

"And your lover?"

 

You shake your head, unsure how Agnes will take that news. Raffi is the reason you still live—her pleas moved Agnes and the Queen. You had nothing to do with it.

 

"Raffi knows how to love. We are interested in that. If she would like to pay a visit to our collective—no commitment or assimilation required—we would welcome that. Promise us you will relay that message. Your expression indicates otherwise."

 

You laugh, a little hysterically. "I promise."

 

And you do, after you're showered and dressed when you find her in the mess eating breakfast. "Uhhh, I don't know how to tell you this, but I was just talking to Agnes."

 

"Really it's the Agnes Queen. Agnes is no more. Just as the Queen isn't really there alone either."

 

"Working in Intelligence has made you exceptionally flexible in how you adjust to strange things."

 

She nods with a smile. "Plus you know I'm right."

 

"Well, let's see how flexible you really are. She, it turns out, has a thing for you. She found out we weren't together and said you can stop by anytime. No commitment or assimilation required."

 

"Hmmm. I mean I have a thing for blondes, obviously."

 

"She's not blonde any longer."

 

"Someone doesn't like this," she says to you in a singsong way.

 

"Someone doesn't want to think of you getting accidentally assimilated when you do that thing with your thumbs and your tongue."

 

"Oh, good point. You dislocated my shoulder that one time with your reaction."

 

"Like I said."

 

"Still, maybe I'll give her a call."

 

"I can't even tell if you're kidding."

 

"Sadly, neither can I." She sighs. "I so need to get off this ship and to a place where the people around me aren't people I lead and therefore probably shouldn't have sex with."

 

"Lucille is saving you a barstool."

 

"Lucille says that to everyone."

 

"She did not say it to me." In fact, the attention she paid to Raffi when you were at her bar annoyed you. "Trust me. She was interested."

 

"Do you need me today? I could really use a day of leave."

 

You laugh. "Go. Tell me if she's as good as she seems like she'd be."

 

"Are we going to do that? Talk about our sex lives?"

 

"In general terms. I do not need the details. It's what friends do, right?"

 

"Yeah, it's the last exit marker before we get off the relationship road and onto the highway of being truly over."

 

"I know. I'm sorry. If it's too much, you don't have to—and I won't."

 

She takes your hand. "No, it's time we turned off the lights on that part of us. I'll let you know if she's any good."

 

You look down.

 

"Are you jealous?"

 

"Yes. But, that's not fair."

 

"No, but it is human."

 

 

 

Him

 

You're not as bored, not now that Jack comes to play backgammon and other games with you, and has left you fun things to watch and read and listen to, not when he's brought Sidney with him to eat dinner with you, or when Alandra came another time and you got Ohk and the Doctor to sit and play poker with all of you.

 

And you've got your virtual pet. A gray cat you've named Shadow. It's not anything like the real deal, but you can see how a little boy who never had the real thing might have fallen in love with his English Setter.

 

And it's definitely relaxing to hear the purrs.

 

Seven's had meetings and dinners and classes that Starfleet is making her take. She comes back every afternoon to give you the infusion and hangs out whenever she can, but they are stolen moments And she's been down a couple times in the middle of the night to check on you with a super panicked look on her face but you have no idea why.

 

When there's time, you'll ask her.

 

For now, you miss the fuck out of her, but you remember what it was like when you first made captain. How many seminars, how many meet and greets that were completely unnecessary but had to be done, how many read-ins for things you didn't previously have access to. You know you two are fine.

 

In a total holding pattern, but fine.

 

You see the Doctor coming and put down the book you're reading.

 

"Do you enjoy swimming?"

 

"I do."

 

"Then come with me. It may turn out to be a very good day for you, Liam."

 

Curious, you follow him out of sickbay and to the holodeck. It opens and you smell chlorine. "Are you just teasing me?"

 

"No. You can swim. Gently, at first. Sidestroke, breast stroke, dog paddle. Nothing too taxing. I'll be scanning to make sure your system is reacting appropriately."

 

You see a changing room and go into it. The system knows your size and a suit appears on a hook. You pull it on and walk out to the pool. "Tell me I can dive."

 

"Do it gently."

 

You do, and it feels like heaven to be skimming through the water, then rising up and floating, to feel your body move, no impact, no barriers other than the soft, warm water. You side stroke—always your favorite stroke—to the end of the pool. In no hurry, just enjoying getting to know what your body can do when you're finally allowed to use it.

 

"Your vitals are excellent, Liam." He sits and his shoes and socks disappear. He rolls up his pants, then swings his legs around so they're dangling in the water.

 

"Can you swim?"

 

"I can. I'm agnostic as to whether or not it's fun. I think for humans, being in the water—especially salt water—is the closest you can get to being as I am, floating unencumbered but for the emitters. A butterfly of ones and zeroes."

 

"That was poetic." You switch to a simple breast stroke, where you leave your head above water and frog kick and reach easily, moving gently through the water.

 

"I can be. Still excellent. Feel free to try a gentle crawl if you want."

 

"Still warming up."

 

He laughs and says, "So contrary. How did you ever make captain?"

 

"By being really good at what I do. You can get away with a lot if you're the best—especially if you know how to do shit no one else knows how to do."

 

"Interesting. And yes, I can see that."

 

You turn at the wall and slip into an easy crawl, head out of the water, which is not your preference, but it's easier to maintain a gentle rhythm this way. Less muscle memory than a true crawl.

 

"Try it with your head in. You can go faster if you want."

 

You put your head in and really pull, drawing yourself forward with each one, kicking gently so as not to use up too much energy—you can already feel it flagging.

 

Jesus, you used to do fifty laps for fun. Now you've done only a few and you're getting tired.

 

You get to the wall and do a proper turn, dolphin kicking in pure pleasure, popping up and listening for him to tell you that it was too much but he's still just sitting, studying his scanner.

 

You slow at the next wall, turn into a backstroke and go slowly, winding down. "Still good?"

 

"Not good, excellent." He grins at you.

 

You feel the wall coming up and ease into it, leaning against it with arms stretched out on the side of the pool, holding you in place. "This felt so fucking good, Doc."

 

"Good." He smiles but he's tapping his hand on his knee in a way you're not sure he's quite aware of. "I need advice, Liam. But it's...it's about your friend."

 

"What the fuck did Ohk do?"

 

"Oh, no, it's not like that. She's...well, she's quite wonderful." He kicks the water a bit. "She asked me if I'd ever consider being on this ship."

 

You aren't sure you can speak. Then you get out, "She asked you that?"

 

He nods, not seeming to notice your shock. "I'm really enjoying her—she's bright and lovely and a joy to spend time with. But..."

 

"But there's Seven?" You really don't want to hear that.

 

"Oh, heavens no. I knew that was over when I saw her face the day you went for your first walk and she saw the empty bed and assumed you'd died. Why she'd think I wouldn't apprise her of your demise is beyond me but that's neither here nor there." He shakes his head. "Then she cried when I told her you were fine. She has never cried like that. My hopes washed away with her tears."

 

"And again with the poetry, Doc."

 

"Yes, it's a gift. No, here's my problem, Liam. I really want to explore what Ohk and I could have but...well, working in sickbay with her is, I think, too much time together."

 

You almost laugh. He's like the male version of her. "I see."

 

"I consult for Starfleet Medical but it's mostly done virtually these days. What I really am passionate about—other than her, of course—are my experiments. I haven't told Ohk this. I don't know if it will upset her that I need so much alone time."

 

"Really don't think it will." Might keep her on her goddamn toes.

 

"But I highly doubt Seven needs another scientist on this ship, or if she does, that Starfleet wouldn't prefer a non-holographic one."

 

"Are you asking me to feel her out about this?"

 

"Yes."

 

"Is that why I got to go swimming? Quid pro quo?"

 

"Oh, heavens no. It was time. Ohk has something else for you that I think you'll like once we get back. This was pretty much a test run for that. I'm so pleased at how you're doing." He looks anywhere but at you. "If you don't want to bother her with this, I understand."

 

"I guess my question is why don't you want to ask her about it? You did her a huge favor coming here, getting me stabilized, putting up with me."

 

"So true." He gives you a grin that has grown more fond over the time he's been here.

 

"I'd say she owes you. Not a slot, but at least a serious conversation about it."

 

"Should I tell Ohk first that I don't want to work in sickbay?"

 

"I would if I were you. I think you might be surprised how she reacts. And she's really good at getting what she wants so she might be able to help you better craft your pitch to Seven."

 

You would give anything to be a fly on the wall when Ohk finds out he doesn't want as much together time as she might think he does. Not because it will hurt her—but because you think it will intrigue her.

 

"Are you ready to get out?" he asks. "I'm eager for you to see what we've come up with."

 

"Sure." You actually aren't ready to get out, not if it means getting back into that biobed. But you do since he's so jazzed about whatever comes next and you get changed and follow him to sickbay.

 

Ohk is studying her padd when you walk in, holding a small device in her other hand. "Perfect timing. I've tweaked it a little based on the readings from the holodeck." She looks up at you and smiles as she holds up the device. "This is your new best friend. May I?"

 

You nod and she presses it to the inside of your right forearm, near your wrist; you can feel it attaching and make a face at the needles poking in, then a rush of painkiller deadens the area. "Just what I always wanted. An implant of my very own."

 

"Give it a second," the Doctor says.

 

The device lights up, all sorts of readouts and other info flitting across the tiny screen.

 

"These are your vitals. We'll be getting a constant stream of them from this just as we do here from the bed."

 

"And this little button"—she points to a red one on the screen—"will call us if you're ever in trouble and can't get back to sickbay. It will also send us your location if you are rendered unconscious or are in trouble."

 

"Define trouble."

 

"Pushing your vitals." The Doctor hits a few buttons that then disappear and a display that looks like a thermometer appears in their place. "We went with standard colors except that blue is optimal. Green is fine, orange is overdoing it and red is unacceptable. It's a visual display so you can monitor and adjust your own activity. However, if you get too many red-zone occurrences, we will bring you back here."

 

You look at her and she nods so you just stare at the little device, unsure what to say. You're so tired and you don't feel like wasting energy getting excited if this is just for you to wear in the fucking biobed.

 

"I don't think you're getting the picture, Liam," the Doctor says with a smile. "You can leave sickbay. You can sleep wherever you want."

 

"Oh. Ohhhhhhh."

 

"And that lightbulb going off is my cue to exit. He's all yours, my dear." He hurries off to the deputy's office.

 

"Oh, God, the big chicken. I can't believe he left me alone to give you the talk."

 

You laugh. "Well, he and I are starting to bond. I'm sure he doesn't want to ruin that by telling me I can't have an orgasm, which is exactly what you're going to tell me, isn't it?"

 

"Yes. You can't get too excited period. This scale will help you keep whatever you do in general, but especially with Seven, in the acceptable level. And I'm not saying you can't have an orgasm ever again, but for right now no. It's like the gym, not yet, but you can swim whenever you want."

 

"So I'm free to leave and I can be with her and I can get some exercise in the holo-pool?"

 

"Yes."

 

"Wow, this really is a good day."

 

"Good, then you can head out whenever you want."

 

"Okay but one more question: I get that I can't have one, but can she?" You hold up your hand before she can protest. "I'm an engineer. I can approach things analytically. Make adjustments, ratchet tension up and down, you know, engineer stuff."

 

She bursts out laughing. "And they say romance is dead."

 

"You're one to talk. Anyway, so long as I stay in the green and blue, I can give her as many orgasms as I want, right?"

 

"Yes. And you're a gem. I hope she appreciates you."

 

"I'll take that as a yes." You pull her in for a hug. "Thank you for taking such good care of me. I know I'm a pain and I also know you hate to be hugged."

 

She pushes you off. "I really do."

 

"I hope you're nicer to him," you say with a wink, giving her every chance to loop you in on what the Doctor told you.

 

"He has no complaints, I assure you."

 

"Okay then. I'm going to Seven's room, which is my old room, right? And I bet I'm still on the door." You frown. "Is that going to be weird. Me just being there?"

 

"Liam, she hasn't changed anything other than to add her clothes and stuff. I was just in there the other day."

 

"Oh. Good." You grab all your stuff from the bed and start packing it up in the bag Jack brought. "Can I have caffeine yet?"

 

"No. Nothing else has changed."

 

"I can live with that." You sling the bag over your shoulder and head out before she or the Doctor can change their minds.

 

 

 

8.

 

Her

 

You're sick of everything Starfleet is making you do now that you're going to be captain. Some of it is so meaningless—or maybe it's just that they've decided to compress it since you're going to officially be working on the refit.

 

Kathryn is doing her best to keep you and Liam together, so you really shouldn't complain at how crazy it is right now or how tired you are.

 

And you've got the next few days free. You feel like you could sleep through them all and might start now if Liam wasn't due for an infusion.

 

Heaven would be lying down, setting the alarm for half an hour, and napping.

 

You palm open your door and stop dead in your tracks.

 

Liam is sleeping on the bed—he clearly fell asleep while working because a padd is lying on his chest. You tiptoe over to him, move the padd to the nightstand, and study a device that is attached to his right forearm. It has some sort of scale which is sitting in a blue zone—you assume that's good since he looks so peaceful and the blue seems to be the lowest value of the scale.

 

Kicking your boots off, you ease onto the bed, set the alarm on your padd, and snuggle in next to him, snaking your arm over his chest. You want to enjoy this moment—mark it as something to remember years from now—but you're too tired and you slip into sleep easily.

 

You wake to him reaching over you to turn off the alarm.

 

"Well, hello," he murmurs, and his mouth is on your hair near your ear, and you feel as well as hear his voice, so deep, so resonant.

 

So alive.

 

"Hello. I did not expect to find you here. Did you plot an escape and is Jack involved in some way?"

 

He pulls you with him as he lies back. "I did. Bigggg explosion in sickbay for diversion. Then he got us horses and rifles and some loot and we rode out of there like the crazy outlaws we are. The medical sheriffs found me though, and now I have this house arrest thingamabob." He holds up his arm. The device is green instead of blue on the scale and a small light is flashing. "Oh, that's new."

 

"It's time for your infusion."

 

"They didn't tell me about that. They really should tell you all the features."

 

You pull his hand closer so you can study the device. "Did you perhaps run out before they could finish?"

 

"No." He turns so he's on his side, facing you. "And I told you, big explosion, horses, gunfights in the OK Corral. It was large."

 

"What happened to the loot?"

 

"I'm lying next to it." His smile is one you've never seen before. So secure, so at peace, so...tender.

 

"Well, the loot is very glad you're here."

 

"Does the loot want me to be here all the time or is that too much?"

 

"Fuck the loot. What does she know? Do you want to be here all the time?"

 

"Yeah, I do."

 

"Then it's a good thing I never moved any of your stuff, huh?" You laugh, and it's a lighter sound than you normally make, and you can see he thinks so too, by the way his eyes narrow but his smile grows.

 

"There is so much to discover, Seven. About you. About us."

 

"Let's go get your infusion and then we can start."

 

He nods and slides off the bed, and you realize his favorite side is the right and yours is the left, and that is one discovery already that makes you very happy.

 

You both stop to check your hair in the mirror, and he laughs and pulls you to him for a short but very satisfying kiss. He immediately checks his arm and says, "Still green." Then he meets your eyes in the mirror. "I should let you know I'm on a no-orgasm diet at the moment. It goes with my no-gym, no-caffeine diet."

 

"I'll survive until they clear you."

 

He gives you a smile you can't read. It's definitely one you haven't seen before. Then it changes. "Oh, but I can swim. Do you swim?"

 

"I learned on Voyager in the holodeck. It seemed prudent to not drown someday."

 

"Your parents never taught you?"

 

"No." You look away. "Ready?"

 

"Yeah. Sorry, didn't mean to open an old wound."

 

"You didn't. They were just...disappointing parents looking back now. I thought I was lucky when I was a kid, so much adventure. Now...I don't."

 

"I completely understand that. But we might never have met if they hadn't been so fucking reckless. So it's hard to be only sad from this perspective. Does that make sense?"

 

You pull him back to you for another kiss, longer this time, and then immediately check the scale. It's green but much closer to the orange—probably the tongue you added and the duration. "You realize they have only given us a challenge with this."

 

"Oh, baby. You have no idea."

 

 

 

Him

 

You're still grinning like a fool as you walk out of your quarters and practically run right into Raffi palming open the quarters across from yours.

 

"Wow, there's a sight I haven't seen in a while. You, ambulatory and...together." She gives you a sort of halfway smile.

 

"How was Lucille's?" Seven asks gently.

 

"Not as good as you'd expect. But...still fun." Her expression is weird and so is Seven's.

 

You're struck, not for the first time since she brought you back, that Seven could have this gorgeous creature and wants you instead. You're not sure you get it.

 

But you're glad it's true.

 

"See, I was right." Seven's voice is still weird.

 

"You were. Now maybe I should try Agnes?"

 

Okay this is a conversation you really do not understand. But you're not sure you need to. They're figuring out how to be friends and work together after having been lovers—it's bound to get weird and you wading into the middle of it is going to make it even weirder.

 

"Your call." Seven smiles up at you. "Ready?"

 

"It's time for my nanoprobe infusion." Why are you telling Raffi this?

 

She puts her hand gently on your arm. "Relax, Shaw. I'm not going to run you through just because you were in her quarters with her."

 

"Okay, good. Because they're mine too." Jesus, did you have to say that? But her olive branch is a little bit condescending, so yeah, you think you did.

 

She looks at Seven. "Really? You're not going to assign him quarters?"

 

You can see Seven's uncertainty, like she's suddenly afraid she might be hurting reputations—yours though. She's not going to give a flying one about hers at this point, not after everything she's done to bring you back and make sure you're together.

 

You decide to wade in this time. "We haven't really worked that out yet. I was just released a bit ago and we fell asleep before we could talk about it." It's mean to mention the sleep part, but it's also true.

 

And if it lets her think the two of you had sex, well, good.

 

You see her face fall a little. But this is none of her fucking business when it comes to your reputation, and Seven's a big girl—if she wants to take the risk, she can.

 

"I just think you really need to take a look at the message you're sending." She's looking at Seven; it's as if you have ceased to exist.

 

"I'll take it under advisement."

 

You worry that will sound too harsh, too cold, but Raffi just laughs and then looks at you. "That's our old way of telling the other to stop pissing on a really nice parade. So I will."

 

"Thank you," Seven says, her voice far gentler. "I think I'm going to take leave tomorrow. I'm beat."

 

"And you've got this guy with you. I don't blame you. I had my play day today, you should get one too." She gives a smile that includes both of you and goes into her quarters.

 

"Well that wasn't at all awkward," you say once you are well down the corridor.

 

"I know. I'm sorry." She stops. "I didn't ask you if you care about your reputation. The old Shaw was by the book."

 

"Yeah but you're writing your own book now, right?" You love using those words with her.