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.


by Djinn



Shaw makes his way down the corridors of the Starfleet facility, nodding at officers as he goes. When they made him Commodore and gave him five ships under his overall authority, he did not expect his first act in this sector that was basically the armpit of the alpha quadrant to be dealing with one of his captains gone completely off her nut.


Especially not this captain.


Fuck, why was it this captain? They've barely spoken since she brought him back to life with her fucking nano-thingamajigies.


His communicator pings, "Musiker to Shaw."


He steps to the side of the corridor. "Shaw here."


"Video's in." Her voice is unreadable. "Just sent it to you."


He pulls out his padd and watches as Captain Seven of Nine strides into a crowded restaurant, goes up to several people, and blows them away with a very non-regulation disruptor—the kind she no doubt used as a Ranger.


"Who were they?" He's seen the names given by witnesses but there's no Federation record of these two people.


"I checked with Elnor. He remembers them from a 'mission' with Picard. They were close associates of a woman named Bjayzl."


He knows the name, heard the story one night when he and Hansen both had too much to drink and started sharing past pains. "Revenge is a dish best served super fucking cold in this case, I guess?"


"She wouldn't..."


Except Raffi can't finish because of course she would. She did. She went back after letting Picard and his time bandits get away safely and blew the fuck out of Bjayzl. "Fucking A, Commander. Can't she ever stop to think?"


"I don't have an answer for that, Commodore. I'm working on the video. So far it checks out. Not doctored."


"Fine. Let me talk to her." He cuts the connection as he arrives at the holding facility and is led in past a row of cells. The far one holds her. "Let me in, give us some privacy."


"Sir, that's not safe," the security officer says.


"Trust me, she won't hurt me." He gives the guy the look that says to piss him off at his own risk.


"At least give me your weapon. I won't have her using you as a hostage."


He nods because that he can see her doing. As he hands it over, the security officer drops the forcefield long enough for Shaw to get in and then raises it, leaving him alone with Hansen.


She's sitting on the bed, leaning against the wall, knees up, arms around them, with a look he can't read on her face.


"What the ever loving fuck, Captain?"


"I don't have to explain myself to you, sir."


He turns away, frowning because the Hansen he knows might say that for a broken reg, but for fucking murder?


He sits down on the far side of the bed. "Annika, it's me."


"Liam, I had to." She sighs softly.


"No, Hansen, you didn't."


She doesn't react to the name any more than she did to him calling her Annika.


He rubs his hand down the special insignia he wears now. Takes one off and hands it to her. "Remember when I got this?"


She takes it from him and nods softly as she studies him.


"Bullshit," he says as a vapor sprays out into her face.


She's frozen. Everything except her eyes and mouth.


"The one thing you changelings really don't want to do is piss off a bunch of scientists and engineers and an android. How deep does this go? Who else here is a changeling?"


"You killed Vadic. She was my friend."


"Not what I asked." He reaches over and takes the insignia from her now frozen hands and hits the controller so more vapor sprays into her face.


"We are legion."


"How very biblical. Let me be super specific. Is the security officer a changeling?"


She doesn't want to answer but Admiral Crusher's Make-a-Changeling-Pay Truth Serum finally works. "Yes."


"The guards outside the holding cells?"




"Where is Hansen?" She has to be close. They'd need her for scans after all the protocols Starfleet has put in.


"I am Hansen."


He sprays her one more time. Which is all that's in this little gizmo, so he slaps it back onto his jacket. He has several more so he puts this underneath them. "Where is the real Captain Seven of Nine?"


"Bound and gagged. Custodial closet. Floor two, wing three. You will not get out of this cell alive."


"You ever put salt on a slug?"


"Why would I do that?"


He pulls out what looks like a tube of lip balm but is really a mister, and sprays it on her. "Because kids are inventive as fuck."


He's up and to the forcefield as she starts to dehydrate. "Hey, hey, she's sick or something."


He's relatively sure the changeling security officer isn't going to just hand him back his phaser so he pulls out the obsidian knife he's got in his boot and waits.


"What the hell?" The forcefield falls and Shaw slams the knife into the heart of the security officer, hoping to God the other changeling wasn't lying to him.


It feels like he's stabbed a human. He deploys the lip balm again and the man starts to scream so he slaps his hand over his mouth to muffle it.


It's beyond gross feeling the changeling's body dry up under his hand but the Shaw that used to be bothered by shit like this died on the maintenance deck of the Titan.


He takes his phaser and the security officer's, then exits the cell, turns the forcefield back on, and checks his hair in one of the shiny plaques lining the wall.


Not looking like he just killed two changelings when there may be more of them. Check.


He walks out, striding the way that pretty much ensures people stay out of his way, his face set in the resting villain face his mentors have tried to get him to work on but he never has.


He makes his way to the custodial closet on floor two, in the third wing. It's got a big "Closed for renovations" sign on it and a padlock that no doubt only opens to keys the changelings make by turning their fingers into appropriately shaped goo.


If he shoots it off, he'll raise all sorts of alarms, the same way a fired phaser would on a ship. Fortunately, he's never stopped carrying the multi-tool his father gave him when he graduated. He sets it for freeze and sprays the lock, then takes the knife and gently hits it until it shatters. He catches the pieces and opens the door.


She looks up and rolls her eyes at him. That alone tells him he's got the real Hansen. No one else could look so irritated with him for fucking saving her.


He takes off the gag and says, "First time I didn't call you Hansen. First time you heard me not call you Hansen. Which came first?"


"For you or me?"


"For you, Hansen."


Her eyes blaze and again he just knows he's got the right one but he remembers how Tuvok almost fooled her.


"The first time I heard it was when you were dying." She stares up at him, her gaze as unrelenting as it often was on their ship. "First time you said it."


"In my officer review. My favorite wine?"


"Malbec. My favorite ice cream."


"Strawberry but it has to be full of big pieces of berries and no artificial flavors. My favorite musical instrument?"


She laughs. "Flugelhorn. My favorite book?"


"Twilight." As she jerks her head up to look at him in alarm, he says, "I'm fucking kidding. But that reaction alone tells me it's you. Jitterbug Perfume for reasons known only to you."


"It's good to see you, Commodore."


"Same to you, Captain." He unties her and says, "I have no idea how many of the people here are changelings."


"I've seen three."


"I just killed two."


"You did?"


"Oh cut that out. I was fucking awesome. But I don't know if that means there's only one more or if the three you saw are in addition to the two I killed, or..."


"I get the picture. We have no idea of the landscape when it comes to potential enemies outside this door."


He taps his communicator. "Shaw to Musiker."




"They are no doubt jamming," she says. "These are what's left of Vadic's people. They seem to only want revenge."


"And we left Jack out of the report on how Vadic was defeated or he'd be here too."


She nods. "I am glad we lied."






"Uh huh. Well, I got us this far. Exfiltration is more your speciality than mine." He hands her a phaser, reaches into his other boot and gives her the spare obsidian knife he's brought.


She laughs. "Chakotay?"


"Yep. Doing it old school. If old school is on a pyramid cutting out a still-beating heart. But, they don't set off metal detectors." He thinks about giving her some of his changeling gizmos but she's lethal enough with a phaser and a knife.


"We should argue once we're in the hall. About whatever they said I did. So they think I'm the changeling taking you somewhere."


"Why would the changeling argue with me?"


"Because that's what we do—or did. When you still talked to me."


"When I still talked to you? Hey, works both ways, sister."


"You did not choose my ship as your base."


"I used to be your boss and captain of that ship. How weird would that have been for you?"


"Not that weird. But clearly it would have been for you."


"Did you want me on your ship?"


"I didn't say that."


"You sure as fuck didn't, did you? And I gave you every chance." He takes a step back, hating that he's both hurt still and that this feels so right, arguing with her this way. He pulls out the padd and hands it to her. "Here's the vid of your crime. Shut up and watch it."


"Well, at least they killed two scumbags." She seems lost in thought for a moment and he lets her process. She finally meets his eyes. "We need to get out of this facility and past the protective dome covering it and the amenities sector if we want to contact Raffi. Which means getting through the amenities sector and then—"


"Into the wilds? Where there's so much natural interference we'll be lucky to get a signal through?"




He's glad he's camped more than once. Although it was nothing like what they are going to face outside the protective dome. "In the cold?"


She nods.


"We need outerwear. I beamed down directly."


She frowns. "But you took out two changelings, so clearly you were expecting them. Why not wear two coats so we would be prepared? Bring gloves?"


"I didn't know there'd be changelings here. I'm just field-testing some of Beverly's latest 'You fuck with me, I fuck with you so much harder' toys."


"Wait, you thought I gunned down two people?"


"You gunned down their boss."


"I know but I wasn't a Starfleet Captain back then. I had literally nothing to lose."


He doesn't know what to say to her so he just sort of does the shrug/head shake that's gotten him out of trouble with his mother for his whole life.


"Unbelievable, Shaw."


"Hey, at least I knew it wasn't you once I got in the cell with you—her, it, whatever."


She hands him back the padd. "Fine, interrogate away. Do you know where the exit is?"


He brings up the schematic of the facility. Shows her where they are and how far they have to go to the exit. How much further to get into the wilds and out of the dampening field so they can maybe contact Raffi. "It's possible we could get a signal through once we're clear of the facility proper, but if we're wrong, they might be able to track us by the signal."


"I agree. Wait until we are in the wilds."


"All right, then."


"All right," she repeats, as she tucks the knife in her boot and stashes the phaser in her jacket pocket. "Let's go, sir."




Seven is enjoying being with Shaw way too much. It's pissing her off how much she's missed him.


If he'd wanted on her ship, he could have asked. How was she to know? And he was so weird after she saved him.


She was glad they're in a less populated part of the facility so they can drop the interrogation act. "Strawberry isn't actually my favorite."


"What? Since when?" He puts his hand out in front of her and she trusts that he hears better than she does—his engineer's ears trained to listen for multiple sounds at once. "Back."


She pulls him into a side corridor and they hide in an inset doorway until the footsteps fade and they resume their walk.


"Seriously, since when?" He sounds like he actually cares about this.


"Since forever. Pralines and Cream is, but I have zero self control where that flavor is concerned so I asked Ohk to limit me to once a month only."


He laughs. "Wow. I understand though. That stuff is yummy. Provided they get the ratio of caramel to pralines to ice cream right."


"Agreed." She looks around the corridor, frowning, and he says, "What?"


"There can't be that many of them here. Or they'd have alarms blaring and our pictures on the terminals." She points to one of the vid terminals set high up. Right now it's just announcing upcoming facility events.


"Reassuring." He starts hurrying, and she sees a closet up ahead full of facility outwear. "We will blend with these. We wouldn't have with anything I wore down."


"Right, so you not bringing basic necessities was actually fortuitous?"


"Take the win, Seven."


"Wait, are you okay? Are you breaking out in hives from using my real name?"


"Fuck you, Hansen."


She laughs. "Whew, thought you were a changeling after all."


"Would it give you a big happy to stab a changeling with my face to death?"


She thinks about it, then gives him a smile she knows will annoy him. "Enormous satisfaction would be had."


"Fuck you."


"Your comebacks need work, sir."


"Yeah, well, fuck that too." He pulls on a coat and stuffs a balaclava, gloves, and ice stabilizers for their boots into the pockets of the coat and she follows suit. He checks the cabinet in the area. "No food. No water." But he stashes a fire starter even though she's sure he has his multi-tool on him. Plus the phasers. Oh well, better too many ways to get warm than not enough.


"We'll have to scavenge for water, hunt for food if we're out there that long."


"Or maybe we'll catch a break and find a shipment of water bottles waiting to be unloaded off a handy flitter."




"Way to jinx it. The door's just up here." He's about to round a corner, when she yanks him back and puts her hand over his mouth, then points to a reflection he can barely make out over the the writing on the vid screen.


"Do you think they normally have guards on this door?" she whispers.


"I would but I don't know."


She shrugs out of her coat and hands it to him. "Stay quiet."


Then she strides around the corner to the guard who says, "Why are you down here?"


"Shaw's escaped." This will mean nothing to a Starfleet officer but everything to a changeling.




"Unknown. But he was last seen in this hallway."


"We'll search all the side corridors then."


She grabs him as he passes her and yanks him back, stabbing above the ear, right into the brain.


"Fuck. Glad you're on my side," Shaw says as he grabs the feet and helps carry the changeling to a supply closet. "Hang on." He takes out his lip balm—seriously? They're waiting for him to put that on?


But then he sprays it on the corpse and it starts to shrink in on itself. "What is that?"


"Salt to a slug." He studies her and seems pissed at her for not understanding. "God, you either? Were me and my brothers just sadists or something?"


"I have no clue what you're talking about."


"Well aware." He puts the lip balm back in his pocket. "This way, no one mistakes him for an actual Starfleet officer."


"Good thinking." She takes the coat back from him and slips it on, then leads the way to the door. "Ready, sir?"





Chapter 2


Shaw is quiet, busy making sure no one is paying them too much attention as they walk through the amenities area—without looking like that's what he's doing.


"If they can't get us, they might go after Raffi," Seven says softly.


"I've been thinking that too. They obviously can't beam up but they might try to get her to beam down pretending to be one of us." He leads her to one of the kind of network cafes gamers use as well as people who need to call their bookies, drug dealers, or side-pieces.


He takes a seat as she grabs a chair and pulls it over. "We need something only we would say to her."


"We? Since when do you two have a secret language?"


He logs in with his gamer account.


"Oh, of course."


"Bet you wish you played now."


"Still don't. Your screen name is Morris Morrison?"


"Well I can't very well be Liam Shaw, can I?"


"That's a stupid name."


"Not if you know what it means."


"I get the Jim Morrison part but the Morris?"


He pulls up the game he knows Raffi plays—sometimes they even play as a team—and uses his messaging system from there to ping her. "Greg Morris played one of the first engineers on TV."


He has certain gamer IDs set up to ping his padd if they send messages. He hopes he made Raffi's list; she's on his.


He starts keying in Running late. Some old rivals wanna play. You should join from there. He turns to her. "Now we need something that's just you and her."


Rather than just telling him, she pushes him aside and starts typing.


"Sure, I'll move."


"Do you write Spanish?"




"Then shut up." She keys in Arroz con leche: Me quiero casar con una señorita que sepa bailar. Then she hits send and they wait.


"And that was?"


"Something Rios used on his ship. She should know it."


It's not a long wait. JustLurking replies: Looking forward to playing with you. They can be tough but I know we can win if you just watch your left flank for once. And still not a fan of rice pudding but thanks for the thought.


He pushes Seven out of the way and keys in. Right, like it's always my fault you let things get in on that side. Don't make a move until I get logged on.


Copy that. Later.


"I assume that was code."


"Everything but the rice pudding—or is that what arroz con leche is?"


She nods.


"What's to our left?" He pulls up his padd and checks the schematic. "Spaceport. Does she want us to go there or to avoid it?"


"Avoid. That must be how they came in. Then they somehow bypassed the scanners that would have ID'd them."


"Or had one of their own take over as someone who manned the scanner and then they just ignored the alerts." He brings up his "How to Stop the Next Invasion" notes and writes "All changeling alerts go to somewhere more than just the local scanner."


She glances at his padd. "You have sixteen pages of notes for stopping the next invasion?"


"How many do you have?"


"Zero. I've moved on. Danger doesn't generally come from the same place twice."


"Sure, we won't mention all the wars that started with the same fucking aggressors."


"Those are large events. Outliers. The average person is not going to be the victim of a crime in the same place."


"Unless they work in a spot like this." Shaw motions to a pallet of water bottles waiting to be put away. Looks like the employees got half done and took lunch. "Nab us some. And get two of those hats everyone is wearing. I need to do one more thing."


He doesn't want her to see this for two reasons, it's a secret code and she'll think he's totally paranoid for having done it given her comment on his notes.


He logs into a game he created that has no other users. Typing a string of alphanumeric characters, he waits for the prompt, then puts in the name of the moon they are on. There is a ping and he smiles as he imagines the notice going out in an encrypted message to every ship in his command that this moon is now quarantined. No one in. No one out.


Raffi pops up again as JustLurking. Respect for the code, by the way, on the new game. I doubted your ability.


I know you did. Shows you. He sends a nonsense string of emojis including several hearts and broken hearts and logs off.


Then he realizes Seven is standing behind him.


"You have a playful relationship with Raffi? You two...play games together. And...talk? She got right back to you."


"Uh huh. You won't play so..."


"Oh, fuck you, Shaw. Let's go." She drops the water bottles in his lap, jams the hat on his head, and storms out.


The fact that she's a little bit jealous makes him way, way too happy.


It takes him a moment to catch up. "Didn't realize you would care if she and I hung out virtually."


"I don't care."


"Uh huh. You do know the gate we need is that way, right." He points to her right.


"Your hat looks stupid the way you're wearing it."


"You put it on me. You fix it."


She does, to his amazement, standing way closer than he expects as she adjusts it. "Yes the gate is in that direction, but we don't want to approach it directly. We should assume I can no longer pretend to be a changeling. So we need an element of surprise. The way you want to go is pretty much just a road once you clear the last shops. They'd see us coming."


"See, this is why you're doing exfiltration and I'm doing the tech stuff." He can't help but notice that she's taking a super long time getting his hat right.


"I can do tech stuff." She pulls away as if he burned her for real and not just with the jibe.


"Sure you can."


She doesn't keep arguing. That's how he knows she's really annoyed. Or hurt—is she hurt?


"There's nothing going on with me and Raffi. Other than we both love gaming."


"I said I don't care."


"Yeah, but I think you might."


"Like it matters to you what I do or don't care about?"


"It did before. Who made sure the lounge had the bourbon you liked?"


She doesn't answer because of course it's him.


"Who made sure your chair got the ergonomic thing installed so you could lean like you're the second coming of James T. Kirk but still have lumbar support?"


"You did that?" She seems sincerely surprised. "I thought Ohk did. She commented on how I was going to kill my back."


"Who told her to go look at how you were sitting, huh?"


She rolls her eyes.




"That was then, Liam. You don't even talk to me now. So shut it." And she storms off, which for her means getting about five paces ahead of him because Seven of Nine would never, ever, let emotion compromise a fucking mission.


He laughs at his own joke and decides not to add this to "Times Hansen Let Emotion Compromise a Mission" list. It's only half as long as his "Times I Let Emotion Compromise a Mission" list and frankly neither list is all that long, so he isn't going to worry about it.


They're usually rational people—especially when not in proximity to each other.




Seven has given up trying to outpace him. He's caught up with her and is staying blessedly quiet.


She's not sure why it's such a shock that he'd be playing games with Raffi. It was how he broke the ice when this whole adventure being a commodore started. Anyone from the command teams who wanted to play could.


She abstained and wasn't the only one but she was surprised at how many Raffi said turned up.


She thought it was one-time only. She's relatively sure Raffi doesn't consider what she's doing with Shaw weird or she'd look guilty the way she used to when they were together and she did something she thought Seven wouldn't approve of. She plays with others too: Worf and Elnor, Jack and Alandra. And recently started playing with Gabe.


She'd been very excited about that. Had told Seven all about it in terms Seven had no reference for, but Raffi was so thrilled that it was fun just watching her joy.


She glances at Shaw. "Do you have any actual lip balm on you?" He always does and she never does and it's probably really weird that he lets her share.


"Here," he presses a tube that looks just like the other one into her hand.


"Is this that salt shit? I spray it and dehydrate myself?"


"It only affects changelings. I insisted it be environmentally responsible."


She dashes some of the balm on her lips and hands it back. "Wait, you're on the 'we can't get over what they did to us' mad scientist panel?"


"See, the key to making up a funny name is to make it something you can say without having to take a breath."


"I didn't take a breath."


"Yeah but most people would have."


"I don't care if most people use my funny name. I can say it so I'll use it."


"Never gonna go viral."


"Why would I want it to?" God, she's missed this.


"Your loss. And yes. I'm a consultant though. Not working full time on it obviously."


"No, too busy gaming with my first officer."


"You are jealous. Admit it."


"If I were, which I'm not saying I am, it would be stupid of me since I don't want to play the game."


"True. But it's not like you can't, on occasion, be stupid when you're emotions get all heightened."


She counts silently in her head so she won't slug him. Being a Ranger was so much freer when it came to that kind of thing. Who was going to report her?


She slows and says, "I don't like the look of those two."


They aren't looking right at them, so she pulls him to a bench outside a shop, makes sure her hair is tucked into her coat, and scooches in very close to him.




"Put your fucking arm around me and look like we're talking about something pleasant."


He slips his arm around her like they've been doing it for years. "Like when I was dead. We haven't talked about that."


"We sure haven't. I have no idea if you're glad to be alive or not." She looks down—but not so much that it will attract attention—and plays with one of her water bottles.


"Is that why you were the only captain who didn't say, 'Oh please, sir, please lay your glorious head down on a bunk on my ship'?"


"No one fucking said that."


"My point stands."


"Okay, yeah, I didn't put my ship in. For all I know, you hate my guts. Why would I sign up for a full time face-to-face with that?"


"Because you miss me?"


She starts to get up—not just because she's not going to answer that but because the suspicious people ended up not being—but he pulls her back down.


"Can we just sit for a moment? We're going to have to run for the trees once we get through the gate. I'm not as strong as you—even with Borg blood."


"You're not Borg."


"I know. Neither technically are you."


"Hah." She glares at him.


"I've never thought of you that way."


"I was at the dinner, Liam. I heard how you said 'ex-Borg' to Picard. I was right next to you, your 'ex-Borg' first officer. Who for all I know was forced down your throat by Command."


"If you had been, I'd have called you what you wanted and been nicer to you. I picked your sorry ass for the job because you were the best candidate."


She tries to parse that logic. It actually does make some sense. He's a dick but not a suicidal one. If Command had been invested in her, he'd have found a way to be pleasant but keep her very far away from anything that really mattered. Instead, he'd brought her into everything—and never been shy about telling her when she was fucking up.


Or when she was brilliant.


"No smart-ass reply?"


"I'm processing. And seeing no falsehoods in that statement."


"You really thought I didn't want you? Or that the comment to Picard—to fucking Locutus—was directed at you?"


"You wouldn't call me by my Borg name."


"Because I don't get why you want to go by the name a bunch of mass murderers gave you. But if you do and it's in the system now that way, fine. Your choice, Seven of Nine."


He doesn't put a sarcastic spin on her name. It sounds—it sounds really nice.


"I'm really glad I'm not dead, Seven." He cracks his water and drinks some. Then he says, in a voice so soft she thinks he's hoping she won't hear him. "Did you really not want me on the ship with you?"


"Yes, I cradled you like a fool when you were dying with my back to the enemies and would have been killed if Raffi hadn't been there—and then made Ohk do a procedure she was skeptical of—because I don't want you on the ship with me. Moron." She takes a long pull from her water, then shoves it into her pants pocket. "Let's go."


And this time she's up and away before he can stop her.



Chapter 3.


Shaw huddles down with Seven watching how the guards at the gate behave, how no one has come this way in over fifteen minutes, but why would they? This gate goes nowhere other than out to the snow and woods.


The way they're acting makes him think they're real Starfleet and not changelings. Changelings would be on alert; these kids just look bored beyond belief guarding a gate probably no one ever uses unless they have to.


"I don't think they've been told to watch for us," she says, on the same wavelength as he is.


"The changelings expect us at the spaceport, not running into the woods. And these feel like our people to me."


"I agree." She's quiet for a moment, then asks, "What was Raffi talking about? The new code?"


"It sends an encrypted message to the group to quarantine whatever I choose. And only the group knows, the people on this moon have no idea our ships are going to be keeping everyone who's on the planet on it, and everyone else off."


"Raffi knew but I didn't?"


"I may have had to have some coding help from her. For the tricky bits that intel hacker types know."


"Oh." Again there is the hurt note.


"But it was just a line or two of code."


"You programmed the rest?"


He nods.


"You are so paranoid now. Secret weapons masquerading as lip balm. Codes for—" She laughs. "Actually, good job."


"Be still my heart. The lady approves of something I did."


"Shut up." She touches his shoulder. "On a more serious note, when you said you're not as strong as I am, did you mean in general or did you come back different, did the nanoprobes...hurt you? Change you?"


"Well, I did accidentally assimilate my parents but otherwise no."


She rolls her eyes but can't bite back the laugh. He laughs at that because she spent half her time in the chair next to him doing just this combination. Seeming to be perpetually amused/appalled.


"Obviously, I came back me, Seven. Who is and has never been as physically strong as you are no matter how many weights I lift." He meets her eyes for a long moment. "Just stubborn, obnoxious me."


To his shock, she cups his cheek. "Brilliant, brave, loyal and also a dick, you."


He leans into her hand. "Aw shucks, ma'am. You're just trying to make me forget this is the last time we'll be warm for a while."


"Maybe." Her smile is the one he loves the best: teasing but also copping to whatever he's accused her of. "I actually think we'll do better with these guards as us, then trying to be clever. Picard got a long way with a fake inspection."


"We both knew it was fake." But he slips off his coat so his rank is evident.


She follows suit. "The crew didn't though. And this is your area of operations, the facility falls under your jurisdiction."


"True that. Are we going to plan this or do improv?"


"We're very good at improv."


"Yeah, yeah we are. And the longer we stand here planning, the closer the changelings get to finding us."


"Let's go then, Commodore Shaw. I assume you want to be good cop?"


"I wink better than you do."


"Yes, a great advantage in life."


"You were a ranger for how long? Bad cop is so your thing."


She rolls her eyes but leads him out, striding to the guards at the gate in the way she does when she's late for a meeting for a really stupid reason and needs everyone to get the fuck out of her way so she gets there before all the donuts are gone.


She never just sat down when she was late. She got coffee and snatched a donut before sitting down in the chair everyone knew was hers. So fucking ballsy and he loved her for it even if he never ever smiled as he waited for her to join the fucking party so he could start the meeting.


The guards immediately stand straighter.


"We have been observing you for some time. This is the first occasion you have actually looked like Starfleet." She sounds so disappointed in them. "You all know Commodore Shaw?"


"At ease, Captain Seven. I'm pretty sure these fine security officers do not spend their time reading boring personnel announcements, am I right?" He winks at them and sees them relax a little.


And she sees where he wants her to go with that. "So I suppose they did not read the memo about our inspection?" She turns and gets nose-to-nose with the poor security officer closest to her. The woman manages not to step back. "Do you have any idea where our inspection will take us?"


"Ma'am, no ma'am."


"As I thought." She pushes her out of the way and goes to the terminal.


He knows she's checking for alerts about them. Also hopefully seeing if there's any area in the wilds they need to avoid.


He motions the guard over. "What's your name?"


"Chief Goines, sir."


"Well, Goines, you'll excuse my captain. She was in the thick of it during the invasion. Anyway, Starfleet went and made me head of this sector." He gives her his best "crazy? I know!" smile and she seems to relax. "Just glad to meet you. Feel for you on this posting. Borrrrring."


She lets a smile peek through.


He turns to the other guard and motions him forward. "What's your name, son?"


"Burke, sir. My sister served on Titan and had only good things to say about you. Except..."


"For the swearing?"


"Yes, sir. We grew up religious."


"So did I, young Burke. So did I. Doesn't have to be a chronic condition."


He hears Seven do the scoff-laugh that means he took her by surprise again. Cracking up the improv partner: two points.


Or two demerits if this were a more dire moment. "Captain, are we ready to go, or what?"


She hits a series of keys and the forcefield at the gate disengages.


"Sir, you're going out there?"


"Yes, we are." He says it as if they asked him if he's going to have dinner later. No doubt.


"If you had read the memo..." Seven loads so much threat in her voice that both guards just scurry to help them on with their coats.


"We can get you an escort, sir."


"I've got an ex-Ranger with me. How much more of an escort do you think I need?"


They concede that and step back.


He takes a look at the terrain once the trees start. "A fucking ex-Ranger who normally worked in the tropics. What the fuck kind of boots are these, Captain?"


"You did not mention snow."


"If you'd read the memo..." He can feel the amusement of the guards. He turns to them and asks, "Extra boots?"


Goines hurries to one of the storage sheds and opens it. He grabs his size and Seven's and carries them back to the gate. "Not that we'll probably need these inspecting the dome perimeter maintenance, but who knows? Maybe landscaping has gotten lazy."


Burke looks incredibly happy that the inspection won't be focusing on security and the two of them. He hands Shaw a stash of energy bars. "It's a long walk around."


"I don't want to take yours, son."


"Oh, we have a huge container of them in the shed," he says with a grin. "Shifts get long."


"That they do. All right, Captain. Let's go."


She gives the two security officers another long look and they stand straighter. "I'll let it go this time since you were so helpful." Then she leads him out the gate and to a particularly shoddy example of snow removal. They stand talking, documenting it with his padd, until the guards turn around in boredom.


"I assume you tried to send a message using their accounts."


"I couldn't get in. And didn't want to blow our cover using one of ours. And I don't have a Morris Morrison account to use."


"That's on you."


"Still a stupid name."


"Uh huh. While you seethe over your lack of a cool alias, let's find a less visible area to switch boots and get to the trees."


"I agree with the plan. I will not, however, be seething."


As they walk together, careful to make it look like they are documenting shit until they are out of range of the guards, he murmurs, "Nice improv."


"Like old times."


"Yeah. Yeah it was."




Seven surveys the landscape. Despite what Shaw said in improv, she did not just work on tropical worlds. She understands snow and this seems like the easiest way to get to the woods. Just warehouses facing the dome here, no activity. And the area is flat and well shoveled to the tree line.


"Here is good?" he asks, clearly willing to let her lead on this. He's always been that way—at least before Picard ruined everything. Before she let him.


"Here is good." She leans down, holding onto him with her free hand as she unzips her boots and trades then for the snow boots. Then she returns the favor for him, letting him use her for balance.


He slaps off the snow from his uniform boots and stashes them in one of the many pockets of the jackets they borrowed. "We may need to look official again."


"Got it." She does the same and takes his padd and walks out into the area past the immediate perimeter, pretending to snap pictures—it really is a model of good maintenance. Once they're to the trees, she says, "Last chance to change your mind."


"No. Go."


He's remarkably good on his feet in the snow but then she remembers where he grew up.


"I wish we had something to get rid of the tracks but that may be just wasting time." She sees a branch that might work but it's too high up to reach and she doesn't want to use her phaser this close in to the dome. The energy spike might trigger an alarm of some kind.


"Once we get further in, if we can't raise Raffi, we'll cover our tracks."


"You realize you have captains in our group, right? Why go to Raffi?" She's breathing harder than she's used to and he moves ahead of her and says, "Let me break ground for a while."


She does let him. Not everything between them is a fight, especially when it's more efficient and effective to share the duty.


"Have you taken a good look at our group, Seven?"


She hasn't. She's been so busy focusing on being a good captain and making sure her junior officers are doing all right after being assimilated and trying to avoid him so she won't have to see him avoiding her, that she really hasn't focused on her colleagues.


"Jose lost his daughter Amelia in the invasion. He's going to retire in a few months—lost his taste for adventure. For everything really."


She pictures Captain Martinez, how she took him for aloof but now sees the same signs anyone looking at her would have seen after she lost Icheb.


"You could reach out to him, Seven. If you felt like it?"


"Are you asking me to?"


"No. I'm just saying it might help him."


"I will then." She realizes she means that. Not "if we survive this, I will."


She fully expects them to survive. With the two of them on this end and Raffi with her resources on the other... "We're your healthy ones? Raffi and I? The rest of the crew?"


He laughs softly. "Yep. I'm not going to go into what the issues are with the other command teams and crews. I only mentioned Jose because I think you can help him in a way I can't."


"Why would they put the flagship in with the walking wounded in this shit area of operations?"


"Because I asked for it to be part of my group. You and the rest of the Enterprise crew are a fucking model of how this doesn't have to break anyone. How nothing has to. And when Starfleet told me I could write my own ticket, I asked for this kind of group in this kind of AOC where nothing much happens but people need our help and never really had it before."


He stops and turns to look at her. "I know what it's like to be broken—and I spent some time on worlds out here when I was. I also know what it's like to be healed—or mostly so. And I know what it's like to have a CO who valued me even when I was a fucking mess. I'm paying it forward, Seven."


He kicks some snow, like a little boy caught being nice when he's trying to be tough. "Some of these people will cycle out of Starfleet from our group, but they will all get a real chance before I make that call. But if you want something more exciting—and I wouldn't blame you if you did—then when we're done here, just say so, and I'll cut you loose and let Command give you something appropriately exciting." He turns and starts walking again.


She hurries to him and grabs his arm gently, not wanting to make him lose his balance in the deep snow. When he turns, she says, "Why do you think I was a Ranger? It was the only difference I could make. And we rangers were the only ones making a difference. So I get it. I do."


"But you want out?"


"I didn't say that." She meets his eyes. "Do you want me to say that?"


"I do not. I depend on you even if you won't let me be on your fucking ship." He isn't smiling; he's dead serious.


"If Starfleet agreed to put the ship here, then here is obviously where we belong. You know the organization better than I do—if you say you want us, then...you know best."


"Okay now I think you're a changeling."


She laughs softly. "You know best on this one thing. Even a broken clock is right twice a day."


"Unless it's a digital one or a twenty-four hour clock."


"A digital one would just be blank or flashing twelve hundred. There is no right or wrong."


"But you can't argue the twenty-four hour one."


"I probably could, but you like to have your little victories."


"Oh, so you're letting me win? Again, changeling."


She smiles at him in a way she never has before and says, "I had a blue and white striped v-neck sweater that buttoned all the way down. I used to play with the buttons; your eyes used to follow my fingers as I did."


"You are not a fucking changeling." He grins but he's staring at her in an almost incredulous way. "I thought I was being subtle."


"You were. But not to me."


His smile is gorgeous.


"Now, can we get back on mission before you have to add this moment to one of your lists?"


"You know about those?"


"Yes, Liam. I know you have them. I don't know what they all are, other than your sixteen-page magnum opus on how to prevent yesterday's crisis."


"Damn, woman. You're nice and then...ka blam!"


She laughs as she switches places with him and sets out. But not before murmuring, "That's why you like me."


And hearing him murmur back, "You are not wrong about that."



Chapter 4


Shaw pulls Seven into the trees for the umpteenth time as he hears a hawk cry overhead.


"Liam, if that were a changeling, why would it shriek?"


"Hawk's gotta hawk." He tries his communicator again. "Shaw to Musiker." He can't believe the guards didn't notice she had lost hers, but she was so aggressive they had definitely been keeping eyes up with the thousand meter stare.


"I have this vision that she's working with all the captains and they've rounded everyone up and we're just in the woods doing nothing for the cause."


"Unless the cause is figuring out what's wrong with us. Me and my captains are a command team too, you know."


"Well aware."


He pulls out one of his water bottles, finishes the last of the water and fills it with as much fresh snow as he can pack in, then closes it back up and puts the bottle under his arm so the snow melts. She rolls her eyes and he knows it's because she thinks the snow is fresher in the open, which it is if you don't count bird poop, but also there are the potential changeling hawks.


Which probably wouldn't cry out but who really knows? Does this world even have hawks? She has the padd and he doesn't want to ask for it just to look up hawks and see the "Gotcha" look in her eyes. "You and I haven't exactly been, well, interacting beyond the bare minimum."


"I know."


"We need to fix that."


"There are warmer ways to do it."


"Hey, I'm not the one who went and got kidnapped." He hears another hawk, so he pulls out one of the energy bars, breaks it in two, and gives her half. "I'm calling rest period."


He pulls out one of the energy bars, breaks it in two, and gives her half. "I'm calling rest period."


She nods and takes a bite of the bar and he realizes she was probably super hungry and didn't say anything.


"God damn it, when will you trust me?"


She stops mid bite. "What? What did I do?"


"Were you hungry and didn't want to ask me for a bar?"


"If I'd been hungry enough, I'd have just taken a bar out of your pocket the same way I've taken the lip balm."


He laughs because she grabbed from the wrong pocket the first time. He stopped her just in time from opening it. Her lips are too amazing to be covered in whatever Beverly's salt stuff is. "Left is for lips, right is for revenge."


"Sadly, I will remember that," she'd replied.


Now she's staring at him, clearly confused. "Seriously, Liam, that was an overreaction."


He sighs. "I've made a big decision for you—bringing your ship with me out to the back of beyond, and you've said jack shit about it since I brought it up."


"What did you want me to say?"


"That you're pissed off at me."


"Well, at the moment I'm not. The whole thing makes a lot more sense." She pulls out his padd. "Do you have a list of things to do to make these sectors safer, happier places to be?"


He nods.


"Can I read it?"


"Yes, but look up whether this world even has hawks first."


She smiles. "I did the last time I was behind. It does. They're called Shrieking Hawks. The more dominant the hawk, the more it shrieks."


"So to blend and not get picked off mid-flight by a meaner, nastier hawk, the changelings would have to shriek." He feels so vindicated.


She pulls up his list and begins to read. He feels strangely self-conscious letting her do that. It's such a combo of basic security and bleeding heart causes, and she's so practical sometimes.


"This." She shoves the padd at him. "This was my fucking pet peeve when I was a ranger."


He has to grab her hand so he can read the padd but he sees, "Regular check-ins with planetary Federation POCs (multiple), along with surprise visits."


"I'd ask for the Federation contact and they'd have moved to another planet two years ago and it had never been updated." She takes the padd back and keeps reading. "I have additions."


"How many?"


"Probably as many things as you have here." She meets his eyes. "Things I saw that I knew I couldn't change but a systemic approach by Starfleet could have." Her eyes are gleaming the same way they did when she would see there were still bear claws left in the donut box at his weekly meetings.


"Wait, you're...excited by this mission?"


"Yeah." She looks at him like he's a big dummy.


"But it's your first command and I pulled you out of anything exciting. This is not exciting. This is..."


"Helping. This is fucking helping, which is what Starfleet is supposed to be doing now that exploration is mostly done in this quadrant. They plant their flag and leave and if you happen to live on the outskirts of a sector, you're lucky if you see a fucking ship in your lifetime.


"As for exciting, I lived through getting home with Voyager. I lived through another Borg invasion. I do not need excitement. And..." She looks down. "I feel like I have a lot of blood on my hands. Being a ranger was a mix of atonement and just being able to kill people without getting into trouble. It scratched an anger itch I had then. But I want to do more."


"What about all the younger crew who think they're going to have an adventure?"


"They are going to. It's just going to be a different kind. A steadying force rather than constant ventures into the unknown. I'm not interested in power projection or battles. But you know I'll fight like hell if I have to. And this area is the first place some of the bad guys are going to start at. We will be occasionally mixing it up." She studies him. "Do you think they won't like it?"


"I don't know. I clearly didn't ask them. And I'm afraid..." He sighs. "I'm afraid they'll say yes because of what happened, what they did when they were Borg. What one of them did to me." He's never asked who shot him. He doesn't want to know. "Do you know who shot me?"


She nods.


"Don't ever tell me, okay?"


"They transferred off. I...I don't know how they'll do, but I made sure Starfleet Medical was aware of their situation."


"Good." And a relief. He never has to look at a crew member and think "Was it them?"


But she has a look he can't read. "Are you lying to me, Seven? So I won't worry about it?"


"No. I'm thinking that maybe I need to ask my crew, once we're back on the ship. What they want out of their tour. Or I'll be doing the same thing to them when maybe some should transfer off to more exciting venues. Hell, I don't even know if this is what Raffi signed up for." She looks at him suspiciously. "Do you?"


"I don't. We don't talk about work when we're playing and we for damn sure don't talk about you. We just play and trash talk each other. Well, we do talk about how to stop bad guys, but that's not work specific that's strategy in general." He shakes his water bottle hard and then jams more snow in.


Seven is eating and staring out at the other trees when he finishes. "How do I get you onto my ship without it being awkward?"


He's not sure he's heard her right. So he just stares until she turns around and says, "Your hearing going, old man? How do I get—"


"I heard you. Uh, well, I'm making Captain Larue super nervous being on her ship. I could tell her I'm happy with what I'm seeing and now that I know her, I'll be moving on." He thinks about that. "I probably need to see each ship. Then I can choose a home base. Like the one I already know and love."


"Good." Then she laughs. "You do mean ours, right?"


"Yes, I mean ours."


"I'm not giving you my quarters."


"Wouldn't expect you to." Although in his fantasies, he'd be sharing them with her.


"We have so many guest suites. You can have one of those while we figure things out."




"Like if it works with you on the ship."




She laughs. "Look, I just got you back on the ship. You want more, you're going to have to do some of the heavy lifting here."


He closes the distance between them but stops just short of kissing her. He's never been this close to her when they weren't arguing and he wants to savor it.


Her smile is a wonder to behold.


He closes the gap and kisses her. She tastes like snow-water and energy bars and his lip balm and her lips are pillowy soft just like he thought they'd be.


They're both holding on to too many things to grab each other, to do more than kiss like junior high schoolers on a dare but it's such a good kiss, he doesn't care.


When he finally pulls away, her eyes are softer than he's ever seen them. "I've missed you so fucking much, Seven."


"Me too."




She reaches into his pocket—left for lips—and he turns and asks, "Can I do it?"


Laughing, she nods and makes an exaggerated pout for him.


"Yeah, you think that's not sexy, but it is. Be normal."


She drops the pout and lets him put the balm on, it's astonishingly intimate and she has to work to keep her mouth relaxed because all she wants to do is smile at how nice it feels for him to do this for her.


If they were in this snowy forest forever, she might be okay with that. "It's going to be getting dark in a few hours."


"I know. We're going to be fucked."


"Unless we find a cave." They've been heading toward the hills and she thinks they can make it before it's completely dark, but whether there'll be an empty cave they can shelter in is anyone's guess. She'd give her left arm for a tricorder; she has a feeling Liam would too.


"The stuff I told you about the other command crews. That's just between us, yeah?"


"Of course. But you should ask them if they have ideas on how to help out here."


"I should. The whole crew might."


"Not everyone will want to admit they know these areas. Some are seedy and people reinvent themselves. Make the idea box anonymous with an option to leave their name if they feel like it."


"Good plan."


She thinks of the make-up of their group. The different types of ships, how they could best be put to use.


It surprises her how excited she is, not just now that she and Liam are talking about this, but about this in general. How it's a test case for using the ships in a different way. How it means something that her ship is part of it. That an Enterprise is living up to the history in a way only Liam Shaw would have devised. She knows he thinks of the ship as two different things but for her, it's the same, no matter the name. It's fitting that he is part of this with his ship, even if it's not the Titan anymore.


Even if she would have rather been captain of that ship than the name it is now. But no one asked her. And never will because Starfleet doesn't care about things like that.


She's been on worlds as a ranger where the thought was that Starfleet didn't care about any planet that wasn't strategically significant or full of resources the Federation needed.


Sometimes she felt that way too.


She wants to change that. She hopes Raffi will want that too. That her bridge crew will stay but she'll offer them the chance to move. Will help them find the best assignments or have Liam do it if they want off.


"Deep thoughts?" His voice is gentle.


"Thinking about our mission."


He reaches back and she grabs his hands and squeezes, then he lets go and they keep going, keeping talk to a minimum unless they are taking the lead from the other, until she sees a creek ahead and says, "Liam."


"Fuck yeah."


He's super excited about water. It's not like snow doesn't work so she's confused.


He seems to know it. "We can't burn a wood fire in a cave—assuming we find one—because it'll smoke us out of the cave. We can't build it outside because well, snow on the ground and we have no shovel to dig down but also the changelings might see it. But those river rocks piled in the back of a cave and heated with a phaser..."


"Like a dry sauna."


"Exactly. We need to collect a bunch. Shit, I should have looked for a backpack."


"Turn around." He does and she pulls his coat back and he coughs dramatically like she's choking him, until she finds the snaps and takes off the removable hood and hands it to him. "One rock carrier."


"You are so fucking smart."


She turns around so he can undo hers. "I wouldn't have thought about the rocks. I would have tried to make a wood fire."


He pulls her back to him as he reaches around to give her the hood. His lips are soft on her cheek. "We complement each other."


"We always have, Liam." She turns so she's facing him. "Can I have this up there? On the ship? With you? Because if I can't, then I want to take the ship somewhere else."


"You want a relationship?"


She nods.


"You want to be boyfriend and girlfriend?"


She rolls her eyes and nods.


"You want to go steady?"


"Fuck you, Liam."


"You want that too? To fuck me?" He's grinning like a fool.


"Yes." She's grinning too.


"It's not by the book."


"But that book is boring—you said so yourself. And the book I write..."


"Is going to be great."


"And you're the love interest. So you have to be in the book or it's a super lame love story."


He nuzzles her neck, then whispers in her ear, "Is this a love story?"


"It is for me. Has been for a while." She pushes him back so she can see his face.


He's smiling, the close-mouthed smile that means he likes what she's said, that he has no problem with what she's said. But it would still be nice to hear him say it back so she sighs dramatically and rolls her eyes.


"Oh right. I'm supposed to respond." He ducks the blow she in no way means to make contact. "It's a fucking epic love story, Seven of Nine."


She touches his face, his beard, the cheekbones she loves, the lips she's fantasized being all over her body. "I love you."


"I love you too." He kisses her quickly. "I really don't want to die out here. Drink your fill and refill the bottles. We probably won't get another chance to do that before we hit the hills. Let's find a cave, Captain."


"Yes, sir."



Chapter 5


Shaw stands with Seven next to the rock-faced hills; they made it. They are both holding tree branches that they use as brooms to cover their path now that they're in the open. It's not perfect but it's something.


"What does the padd say about predators on this moon?" he asks. If she looked up hawks, she probably looked up everything else they might run into.


"No felids or canids. Which I guess explains the lack of herbivores?"


"So what's left? We know the hawks are eating something, probably rodents, other birds, or maybe even fish."


"There are bears. Omnivores and they have no natural enemies. Why do you have all this information on your padd? We're out of range of any relay."


"I had a really bad mission early on because I thought the padd held all knowledge. Which it does if it's connected. But we didn't have any way to connect. Since then, I download the information packet on the planet and facilities before I beam down."


"That wasn't standard practice for us."


He grins.


"Oh, it was but we didn't know it?"


He laughs as he remembers programming in the code to automatically download local info to the padds of any member of a landing party.


"Full of surprises."


A shriek sounds overhead and this time there is nowhere to hide. He hates being this exposed. "Did the padd say if the bears hibernate?"


"They do. But it is partial, as with Earth bears."


He understands that—these bears could wake up very fast and be very pissed, especially a female with cubs. "Okay, then let's find a bear-free cave."


They begin to walk, finding caves relatively easily but when he sneaks in with her covering him since she's the better shot, the caves are already occupied. He sneaks out just as quietly and they keep going.


He tries Raffi every twenty or so steps but nothing.


It becomes completely dark and they are using the flashlight on his padd when they find a cave that's smaller than the others and blessedly free of bears. It's fine for them, just deep enough for them to get out of the wind and snow, but for a bear he could see how it would seem too open to danger.


They have to crawl in to get under the ledge but once inside, they can sit up with no problem.


She takes his hood from him and unties it next to hers, moving the rocks around to find the biggest to put on the bottom and then the next size down. He admires her process; the rock pyre is a thing of beauty once she's done.


She sits next to him with her back against the wall and says, "Light her up, sir."


He laughs as he uses a low setting to first dry the rocks off, then begin to heat them. He's aiming for comfortable heat not full-on sauna.


She's checking the external temp on the padd as he works. "For your future reference, I like to sleep at this temp."


She shows him and he laughs, liking how they're on the same page: it's way colder than most people like, probably their shared Scandinavian roots. "I used to sleep with my window cracked year round in Chicago. Tons of blankets."


"Yes. It took me a long time to be comfortable in a bed after I was freed from the collective but once I did, this became my favorite."


"Did your partners like it?"


"No." She laughs, and it's a lovely sound.


"Yeah, mine either."


"I like the air I'm breathing to be cold. To wake up and just feel bundled in warmth."


He makes a sound of happy agreement. "Right side of the bed for me," he says softly.


"Left. You're winning the dream mate contest so far."


"Two questions in? Lazy ass data collection on this one, Sev." He laughs as she bumps him. "Well, it is."


"Give me time. I'll get plenty of data collection done and you might not even be aware of it."


"Right. Because you hide your feelings on anything so well."


She laughs. "I used to, actually. Was almost Vulcan in how I approached interactions with others."


"Hence the eyebrow."




"Now I get that plus the eye roll, plus the scoff of disbelief, plus the glare of 'how dare you say no to my bullshit request?'" He laughs softly.


"You forgot the one-sided smile of contempt."


"Yeah, I hate that one. Left it out for a reason."


"You do it too."


"Because my mouth is crooked. Yours is on purpose."




"So those past partners. You were with girls, mostly?"


"I fall for whoever wins my heart. I don't really care what kind of genitalia they're packing."


He laughs. "I like chicks."


"And down your score went with that comment. But you did it on purpose to make me react, so points for knowing me." She snuggles into him. "Also, that's not you. Despite your fascination with the buttons on that blue and white sweater, you have never ogled me. I've never seen you ogle anyone."


"That one time. On Selaxu?"


She starts to laugh. "They gave us that tea. No one warned us about that tea."


"I think T'Veen knew what might happen. Maybe she thought we'd work our shit out that night."


"We ran like hell from each other. I locked myself in my room and did a lot of, well..."


"Yeah, me too. So much of that. Thinking of you though."


"Same. What would have happened if we'd just done it? Would she still be alive, Liam?"


He hears something he doesn't like in her voice. More than just the gravity she should have at how her choices had consequences, repercussions someone else had to pay. This is guilt and it's heavy.


He puts his arm around her and pulls her closer. "We'll talk about Picard some other day. That whole thing and why and what we both could have done better. But for today, let's think about what would have happened if we'd told them to take a hike. United front. Saw the bullshit. Five hundred lives for one lost woman? No fucking way."


She makes the sound that means she's listening but not going to interrupt him.


He kisses her forehead, then leans his head against hers. "We show up for Frontier Day. We do our part. We get assimilated. We have a full complement instead of a skeleton crew. No Raffi and Worf to help us because Picard and Riker would have found another way and they'd all be out there fighting Vadic. How do you think that would have gone for them?"


"Not good. So...Titan was instrumental in their success."


He's glad to see she's traveling the same road he is. "Yes, it was. They die without us." He moves so he can meet her eyes. "We die without us. The Queen wins. All those temporarily assimilated junior officers become drones forever—and I know you know what that means."


She nods.


"It wasn't five hundred lives for one person. It was five hundred lives for the entire Federation and probably beyond." He holds her face so he knows she's getting this. "I believe that T'Veen would have seen that as acceptable. I know I did."


"I betrayed you."


"Maybe because you were supposed to. Because I wasn't where I needed to be yet—to the spot where I could say, 'Sure, hon', let's help your friends.'"


"You're letting me off the hook, Liam."


"There is no hook. There's just what happened." He loosens his hold on her and leans in, kissing her as gently as he can. He wants her to understand: he forgives her.


She kisses him back the same way, tenderly, almost reverently, and he can feel that she forgives him too.


"We played our part, Seven. And now we have a future, when before we wouldn't have. I can't be sorry about that no matter how much it will hurt to see someone else in T'Veen's chair."


She nods and takes the phaser from him, gently getting the rocks back up to temp. "I've been carrying this guilt around with me."


"I'm sorry. Maybe you wouldn't have been if we'd been talking—and that's on me, too. I'm not blaming you." He realizes she's yawning. "Are you sleeping?"


"Not very well."


"Do you normally?"


She smiles as she takes his hand. "When I was on Titan with you. And I felt..."




She nods. "I slept fine then."


"Go to sleep, Seven. I'll take first watch."


She does what he says, lying down with her head in his lap, facing the rocks, and she murmurs, "Play with my hair?" so he does.


Her hair is like silk—he always imagined it would be. He pulls out an energy bar and munches on it as she sleeps, listening for sounds of footsteps in the snow—he's relatively sure the changelings will have to come in on foot since hawks don't fly at night. Then again, they could just change to owls and he's not sure if there's a glow from their cave to lead them here. So he listens for wingbeats too the same way he could listen for multiple sounds when he was an engineer. Sounds that meant trouble.


Every now and then he gets the rocks back up to temp. Mostly he just plays with her hair and thinks about what they're going to do once morning comes.




Seven smiles as Liam wakes from his nap and turns onto his back, staring up at her. He reaches for her hand, brings it to his lips and smiles as he kisses it.


"So gallant."


"Always. Well..."


She laughs. "When you're not being a total dick, you're very gallant."


She takes the phaser and is about to warm up the rocks when she hears crunching in the snow.


Liam is immediately sitting up with his phaser drawn.


"You two decent?" Raffi calls from outside the mouth of the cave. "Also don't shoot the rescuer."


She laughs but Liam shakes his head and says, "Prove you're Raffi."


"You're both stubborn as fuck. You're also both gone on each other. I'm not the only one hoping this little adventure was good for your relationship."


"T'Veen's probably really happy," Seven says.


"That's not even a good test. There were changelings there when she died." Raffi sounds very put out with her ability to not find something personal.


"Fine, when you sleep and you forget your mouthguard, you bite your tongue."


"That's only slightly better. Anyone who wears a mouthguard faces this."


"Savorna. Friend or foe?" Liam asks and Seven has no clue who that is so it must be gamer shit.


"Well if you hadn't accidentally shot them in the middle of a big game, they might be a friend. Dipshit."


"I was aiming for that other guy."


"Who never would have gotten in if you'd ever watch your left flank. Guys, it's freezing out here. Can I come in now?"


He looks at her and she nods. "Yeah, come on in."


She crawls into the cave and grins. "Look at you two morons. Got the mood lighting coupled with heat. Energy bars from the lamest gate security team ever." She leans against the other wall. "Why did you not go left? We were waiting for you at the spaceport after we recovered the footage of how the changelings got in and how many of them there were—everyone thinks things are really deleted. Nothing is ever deleted."


"You said to guard his left flank."


"Right to throw off the changelings in case they were able to access the message."


"You threw us off. He asked me and I thought it meant avoid the spaceport."


"Yeah, well we figured that out when we got to the spaceport and you two doofuses had run for the hills. In the snow. With—" She looks at their snow gear. "Pretty damn good outfitting. Here I was worried you'd freeze your stupid asses off."


Then she leans back and says, "Nice rock heater, love the glow on the rocks. This is so soothing."


"Yeah, as shelters go, this doesn't suck." Liam sounds proud of them.


Raffi takes off her gloves and warms her hands over the rocks. "Great group command team, by the way."


Seven can't tell if she's being sarcastic or not. By the way Liam says, "Oh?" she thinks he's not sure either.


"Yeah, Martinez had these drones left over from a survey, and Larue and her tech team worked some magic to get them to transmit despite the interference down here. C'Toma grew up on a snow world and he did the heavy lifting on finding your tracks, which since you kept ducking under trees was not easy."


"Changeling hawks were on our trail."


"There were no changeling hawks, Liam." Raffi's smile is sweet but also a little mocking. "We rounded the changelings up really quickly. Our biggest challenge was finding you two."


"You left out Captain Gale."


"He took charge of the interrogations—do not piss him off." Her voice is full of respect, not concern. "And his exec, Commander Rao and I took point on coordinating things from the Enterprise." She's blushing and Seven knows that blush. Gale's exec is a very attractive woman.


"Took point, huh?" She's laughing as she asks.


"We were focused on the mission, Captain." Her smile doesn't fade. "This is going to be fun working with them." She starts to get up but Liam waves her back down.


"About that..." He looks at Seven.


"We're in this sector to help—where maybe Starfleet hasn't really helped before."


"Well I didn't think we were in this sector to fight Romulans. Or changelings, for that matter, yet here they were." She studies her. "Are you asking me if that's what I want to do?"


She nods.


"I was stuck in the desert going stir crazy until JL needed me. Then I was doing intel on this latest thing...again alone. Until Worf uncloaked. So the idea of being with a whole bunch of good people doing things that will help the worlds I spent a lot of time on when I was an addict and saw how shitty it can be out here? That sounds really nice. And you two don't suck as bosses. Even if you can't understand code."


"Oh, you think Worf would have figured that out?" Liam asks, his voice the one Seven imagines is from his games with Raffi. Bitchy as hell but ready to give as good as he gets. Raffi will love that coming from him in a way she never did coming from her.


"I ran it by him. He figured it out."


"Well, fuck."


"Yeah. You two ready to get out of here? Rao's about a quarter klick down the way with the flitter. The ones they have here are practically silent. We should get some." She gets a very silly look. "Or did you want more time in your little love motel here?"


"Fuck you, Musiker. We were on watch for changelings. That weren't apparently after us, but still, we were on the job."


She looks at Seven instead of him. "I know that expression. You weren't always on mission, unless the mission was making up."


"Maybe that was the mission." Liam sounds like a ten-year-old with that retort and Seven laughs before she can stop herself.


"This guy is what you want? Over me? Seriously lame." Then Raffi pulls on her gloves, crawls out of the cave, and leaves them to it.


Seven sighs in relief that her vision came true and they don't have to do more. "It sounds like my ship is command central."


"As it should be since it's the biggest starship."


"Then you should come there. With me. Not go back to Larue. Not tonight anyway. And maybe not tomorrow." She ducks in and kisses him quickly then whispers, "I want to have sex only...the reports."


"Raff, if I have you go with Rao to oversee the interrogations and I send you our portion, will you do the reports?" he calls out.




He grins at her. "Problem solved." He stashes all the stuff he's brought in and crawls out and she gives the now barely glowing rocks a very grateful look and follows him out.



Chapter 6


Shaw is following Seven to sickbay when Raffi pulls him aside. "What's wrong?"


He sees Seven turn and motions for her to keep going. For once she doesn't question and heads down the corridor.


Raffi's watching her. "She probably thinks this is a gamer thing." She laughs softly. "It's not. I know you and her want to... And I really want to hang with Rao for some extended getting-to-know you time. But..." She meets his eyes, hers firm. "Don't. Not yet. The group needs something else."


"I'm listening."


"You've told me Jack shit about our mission or the other ships but I think I know why you've brought this command crew for the group together and I think you want us to succeed. And I have to tell you, they did. We did. They're super engaged right now. They have things to tell you. So, as much as I can't believe I'm saying this, call a fucking staff meeting and do an after-action report. Fucking can wait."


He lets a big grin be his answer. "And now I know why Seven is willing to deal with the ex factor to have you at her back. Thank you for being willing to tell me that." He glances down the hall where Ohk has come out and is tapping her foot. "She'll kill me if I don't come in for a check-up. Can you..."


"I can. We've been using Conference Room Four."


"Big enough table that no one has to back bench."




He suddenly understands besides her willingness to speak truth to power what Raffi brings. Seven has no clue how Starfleet works at its core. She's operated on the fringes. This woman understands the organization possibly even better then he does. It's in her blood and she's driven to make things right. It's the best kind of officer. "We'll be there."


"Seven shouldn't sit next to you."


He grins. "You and I know that. Let's see if she gets there on her own, okay? I have faith in her."


"She can misread the subtext."


"Trust me."


"She may be your left flank, Liam."


"Well then it's a good thing you're right behind her." He winks and heads down before Ohk can stomp down and manhandle him to sickbay. "Shouldn't you be working on Seven?" he says as he rolls his eyes at her.


"Kirschner is. You're too canny at avoiding a med check."


"I don't have frostbite and I don't have hypothermia."


"I'll be the judge of that." Ohk pats a biobed and he hops up, resigned.


He glances at Seven and says, "Raff thinks we need an after-action meeting before we all disperse."


If she's disappointed, she doesn't show it. "Good idea."


He waits for her to ask why he had to have that conversation alone with her exec, but she doesn't. She seems to accept that he and Raffi have their own relationship now and it doesn't trouble her.


But then as far as how ships go, she grew up on Voyager, where Janeway probably over the years let hierarchy and chain of command morph into informal pods of expertise. Everyone probably had their own relationship with her or Chakotay by the end. Superiors probably gave up being immediately "in the know" of anything their captain or first officer were doing with their people. He's seen that kind of loose structure in some areas of Starfleet. Whoever's the expert is the one called, rank be damned.


He can make his place like that if he wants but he thinks that might be a bridge too far for people in need of some form of control after the Borg invasion. His captains deserve to be masters of their own ships. But in an emergency, he'll grab who he needs and put them where he needs them. It's why he has the group to begin with.


Kirschner looks at Ohk, who abandons him and walks to the other bed. As Kirschner leaves her to it, Ohk looks at the readings and frowns at Seven. "Someone hasn't been sleeping."


He keeps his mouth shut but it's hard not to intervene.


"I slept fine in the cave," Seven says softly, not looking away from Ohk, and he suddenly wonders if Ohk has wormed information out of her the way she used to do from him.


"I see. Are there more caves in your future, Captain?"


He can't keep quiet. "So many more."


"I'd like to hear it from my patient, Commodore Dipshit."


Oooh, low.


Seven's smile is glorious. "Many, many, many more."


"I want you back in next week for a re-check."


"How come it's taken you this long to figure out she needs sleep?" he asks as if he's an inspector from Starfleet Medical.


She turns to him. "Because she's even better than you are at evading a physical." She pats them both on the knee and says, "Get out of here. Glad you're safe. Raffi was awesome."


Seven laughs and slips off the bed, stopping at the replicator to order what he knows is her meeting combo: coffee and donuts. Enough for everyone.


"Did you get maple bars?"


"No, I left out the kind you like best on purpose. Statistically, they are a crowd pleaser even if you weren't here."


Bear claws weren't, but it never stopped him from making sure they were in the selection. And more than one in case someone else loved them too.


She follows him down to Conference Room Four. "I love this room. The table is so big."


He doesn't tell her where to sit. The others are streaming in and she puts the coffee carafes and fixings and the donuts on a back credenza and then goes to talk to Raffi for a moment.


He takes his seat at the head of the table after grabbing coffee and a maple bar. He's happily munching it—the energy bars were nutritious as hell but kind of tasted like cardboard—as people find their seats.


She hangs back. She's watching where people are sitting and he doesn't think Raffi coached her.


She's doing it on her own. Then she sits next to Martinez and gives him the sweetest smile—and he knows eventually she'll tell Jose about Icheb and he can tell her about Amelia.


Gale takes the seat next to him. "Good selection on the donuts."


"Thank your host, not me." He grins because he and Gale go way back. "Uh, I'm sending Raffi over for a few days. She's aces on interrogation and well, you know..."


"Fucking matchmaker." Gale is laughing at him. "They ran things well. Rao and Raffi. Has a nice ring to it." Then his look changes, becomes the look of their engineer days, when they used to be each other's wingman. "Does that mean her captain might come with her?" His look says he doesn't expect it does.


Shaw shrugs in their old way that means "hands off" rather than "no idea."


"Figured that." He finishes his donut and goes to get another.


Larue takes the other seat next to Shaw. "Sir, I want to talk to you about the drones we reconfigured. We see expanded use for them. And other reconfigurations that might be useful. We can talk when we're back on the ship?"


He nods. "Sounds good. I can't wait to see what you did."


"It was my team, not me."


"Understood. So, uh, I'm going to stay here for the next few nights." He watches her face and sees she's too new to understand what's going on with him and Seven the way Gale did. Which is a relief. They'll all figure it out eventually, but he'd rather it not be tonight. "Then I'll be moving on to another of the ships. Sure do appreciate you being first out of the gate to host me." She didn't have a choice but he's making it sound like she did.


"It was fun having you." She sounds like she means it. Her grin is confident and unguarded. "Swearing onboard will go down exponentially if you leave."


He loves that she just said that to him. "Sadly, probably true." He turns to the group. "Okay, so I'm going to be moving my billet around the ships since Larue is kicking me out."


She laughs and the others do too.


"Who wants me next? Don't everyone raise their hand at—" To his shock, everyone is raising their hand at once, except of course Seven, but this time it's not because they have issues but because he knows—and she does too—that she'll get him last.


"Wow, uh, okay, Gale, my friend, hope your Malbec stash is refreshed. We'll talk later and figure out a day for me to move my shit over." He takes a sip of coffee. "Okay, first thank you so much for taking care of things while Captain Seven and I went hiking in the snow."


There is laughter but it has a sound he loves. Not just amusement but also satisfaction. They did take care of things. His group of misfits more than rose to the challenge even though they've barely formed as a unit.


"I know we're probably all sick of changelings but let's do a quick after-action wrap before we disperse."


As they fill him in on the various ways they closed this thing down, he feels an energy that was missing when he had his first few staff meetings. He sees smiles on faces that seemed to have seen it all. Sees a sense of belonging on others that may have felt adrift after half of Starfleet turned against the other. And he sees enjoyment.


He meets Seven's eyes and hers are soft and approving and he knows she sees it too. He's careful to keep his smile from getting too big—she'll get that from him later.


He can't even imagine what his team is going to accomplish together.


But he thinks it's going to be great.




Seven watches Raffi walk off with Rao and feels a momentary pang of jealousy.


"You okay?" Liam asks softly.


"You can know it's over, even be the reason it is, but it's still sort of a shock." She feels his hand on his back.


"Regretting anything?"


"No. And they look amazing together."


"They really do. I however believe I got the prize." He turns her toward the lift. "Unless you'd rather wait..."


"Don't be stupid." She rolls her eyes. "I'm momentarily nostalgic. I trust you can quickly ease me out of that mood."


"I trust I can too." He follows her onto the lift, which is empty so he plays with her hair as they ride it to her deck.


"I never took you off the door." She checks his reaction, which is a huge grin.


"For real?"


She nods. "I lived in hope."


"I fucking love that," he says as he palms open the door, and once it closes, takes her hand and walks to the couch. "Indulge me?"




He laughs and she knows it's because of course she can't be romantic and say "Anything, Darling" and truth to tell she thinks he doesn't want her to be like that.


"I know you said I didn't ogle but there were times, when I'd be here and you'd be in to tell me something I usually didn't want to hear and all I could think was how it would be amazing if you would just come over and straddle me and kiss me."


She's thought of that herself while she was in here. More than once. "And you think that just because you thought it'd be amazing, I'll do that for you now?"


He laughs and nods.


"Well." She walks toward him slowly, keeping her expression like stone. "I don't think..." She straddles him and he moans. "I want to do that." She's moving on top of him and he pulls her to him and kisses her in a way they didn't when they thought they had to watch for changelings.


All out, all in, heart open. Fully each other's.


She runs her hands down his back, then through the back of his hair, and he groans. She pulls away so she can see his face, his gorgeous eyes, his lips that are soft and warm.


"Sev, I don't think I've ever wanted anyone the way I want you."


"I know. It's...it's a little scary, to be honest." She moves again. "But I'm brave. You said so yourself."


"You are. You're the bravest." He pulls her back to him and they just kiss for the longest time. Like there is all the time in the world—and maybe there is this time. Maybe fate will be kind to them.


But just in case not, she's going to get this party started and pulls off her top. Oh, shit, she has smelled fresher. "Shower first."


"Fuck that. Fuck me right now, then a shower, then more fucking." He eases her up to pull her pants off, gets his off just enough, and then lets her take the lead.


She sinks down onto him, and it's been a while since she's been with a guy so she slows, getting used to him, how perfect he feels inside her, how he touches her just right, how kissing him feels so damn good.


She's barely started moving and he's touching her, his fingers fully in control of her, and she smiles as he does, as she gives up control and lets him take her up and up and up and then...the long fall down.


She's breathing hard as he gives her a moment, then he's moving, murmuring things that are so sweet, so loving, everything she ever wanted to hear from him.


She holds him as he comes, as he buries his face in her chest and kisses her.


He looks up at her, the most tender smile he has ever given her on his face, and says, "I will love you till the day that I die." Then he frowns. "Again, I mean. Until the day I die again."


She laughs. "I'll bring you back."


"Isn't there a limit?"


She shrugs. "Let's not put it to the test, okay? I want you safe and with me."


"Those two things might not be entirely comfortable together, Captain Risky."


"Just for that, no more fucking."


"Not a problem." He reaches up, strokes her cheek. "We're not fucking, we're making love. Just in case there was any confusion."


"I wasn't confused. But I can understand that you might have been. Mister 'Every hawk might be a changeling.'"


"Every hawk might have been." He laughs as he urges her up. "We really do need a shower."


"As I said."


For once, she doesn't care about how much water they are using. They take such exquisite care of each other in the shower, getting to know each other's bodies, her his scars and tattoos, him her scars and implants.


Then they go to bed and make love leisurely, and they are both yawning as they come down from the orgasms, as they cuddle together.


"I have the alarm set for six."


"Fine," he says, as he bundles her under the covers and she tells the room computer to turn the temperature down.


They snuggle into each other as if they've been doing it forever. She's always found that sex is easier than actually sleeping with someone. But not this time.


He spoons her and she feels complete, the way she used to when she was in the collective. Loved and held and part of something bigger.


Only this time, it's her choice.


"I love you, Liam."


"I love you, too, Seven."


Sleep is a friend now that he's here. It comes for her quickly and she wakes in the morning spooning him, his hand over hers where it rests on his chest.


It's a half hour until the alarm will go off, so she just settles back down and enjoys what will soon be her new normal. Her person on her ship in her bed.


She dozes off to the sound of his soft snores.