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.

Two of Two (Part 3)

by Djinn





Seven walks into the bedroom to see if Liam is done in the shower and finds a pile of clothes on the bed, and him rummaging through his closet in only his boxers.


"Really? You said your party would be casual. So everyone would be comfortable. How many modes of casual can there be?"


He turns to look at her and she realizes he's seriously unsure. "Help?"


"My sweet grown man who's been dressing himself for how many years?" She pulls him to her and kisses him. "You need help?"


"Yes. I pull on a uniform most days."


"Fine." She pitches her voice to make it as seductive as she can. "I'll dress you."


"Say it in that tone and you can do anything you want to me." He pulls her in and kisses her neck. "What are you wearing? Should we match?"


"Are we announcing anything at this?"


"I don't want to pretend I'm not with you." He keeps kissing down her neck so she's finding it hard to keep her mind on the party.


"I don't want to either. But I also don't want you to make it part of any speech you might be giving."


"Let's just be us and see how long it takes them to figure it out."


"Fine." She goes through the things on the bed. "And yes, the idea of matching amuses me. I'm wearing a brown sweater and jeans and brown boots. Can you do that?"


"I have a brown sweater in here somewhere. And these." He hands her a pair of very beat up brown boots that still manage to look cool.


"Yes. And I think I saw the jeans I like in this pile..." She finds the ones she's looking for. "Wear these. They hug your butt very attractively."


"Why, Captain, I didn't think you'd noticed."


"Everyone notices when you wear them. You get many looks. You seem unaware of them, however."


"Well, damn. These jeans for sure then." He loops his arm over her shoulder and kisses her slowly. "What would I do without you?"


"Let's not find out."


"See, that right there is why we work. So sweet yet also so snotty. Perfect." He pulls on the clothes and turns around a few times slowly. "Butt look as good as you remember?"




"All those poor crew members who had crushes on me will be dying, wanting this right here." He pats his rear. "Now I must go fix my hair."


It's amusing to her that he takes so much more time to get ready than she does. Her hair air dries and her makeup routine, which she does at the full length mirror on the wall, is minimal.


She realizes there's a box on the bed with a bow on it. "What's this?" she asks.


"Open it and find out." He comes to the bathroom doorway, his hair only half the way he likes it.


She sits and unwraps the bow, then opens the box. A pair of gold earrings with greenish blue stones that flash gold if she holds them just right are inside.


"I don't even know if you like dangly earrings like that. But the stones are labradorite and they match your eyes."


She puts them in her ears and goes to the mirror. "They're perfect. When did you get them?"


He looks down. "When I had to come back here for meetings, a few months before the whole Picard thing. I saw them in Sausalito when I was out drinking with Patrick. I figured after Command read my eval of you, they'd be moving you off my ship. So I was going to give them to you as a going away gift. They got packed up when my stuff was sent back to Earth. I just found them. Thought today was a good day."


"It is." She's watching him in the mirror. "Would you have used my name finally if you had given them to me as a goodbye?"


"I don't know. I might have chickened out on even giving them to you. I mean 'Hi, I'm the asshole who insisted on using a name you don't claim as your own and oh yeah, have some pretty earrings on your way out' is kind of lame."


She laughs. "That speech does need work."


"Well, fortunately we're together now, and I can ask you to wear them today even if you never wear them again. I want to see them on you."


"I love them. I obviously can't wear them on duty, but you will see them after today. But I don't have anything for you."


"Yeah you do. Every single day you do. I don't think you have any idea how much better my life is with you in it."


She loves when he gets this sincere, this open. "I have a little bit of an idea." She shakes her head enough to make the earrings move against her hair. "They look really good with this outfit." She pulls him to the mirror, studies them in their matching outfits—her jeans also hug in the right places. "Our crew is going to be so confused."


"Not all of them. I used to hear muttered 'Get a room' comments on the bridge when you and I were going at it too energetically."


"You could hear that while arguing?"


"Curse of an engineer. Sounds are important, can give you big clues about how well things are functioning. And there are lots of them in an engine room to pay attention to."


"I hadn't considered that." She pats him on his butt, which does look extra good in those jeans. "Finish your hair and let's go."


"Can't rush perfection."


"But I can leave it here and take the flitter alone."


"Such a nag."


"Yes. Poor you."




Shaw follows Seven into the huge outside enclosure Raffi rented at Command and stops when he sees all the people. "Holy crap. So many came?"


She gives him the sweetest smile and says, "See you are loved."


Raffi comes up and he pulls her in for a hug that manages to not be at all awkward as he says, "Thank you, Raffi," and makes it as sincere as he can.


"They all wanted to come, Shaw. I don't get it, but if the masses want you, you I will deliver." Then she grins. "And you're welcome." She looks over at Seven and then back at him. "Seriously? Matching outfits? We never did that."


"No. We did not."


"Is this that Borg blood thing? It makes you want to dress alike?" Then she sees the earrings and pushes Seven's hair back. "Pretty." She looks at him with a surprise. "You pick these out?"


He nods.


"Huh. Nice." Then she walks off, already yelling at Jack Crusher for doing something that's pissing her off but he hightails it for a denser bit of partygoers and she loses him.


Shaw laughs. "First rate evasion skills. Remember that for certain types of missions."


"Will do."


"I really want to put my arm around you."


"I really want you to. But..."


"Understood." He walks with her to the bridge crew, grinning and letting them hug him if they want. "So your new boss working out?"


Seven dramatically rolls her eyes and makes everyone laugh.


"What's Command got you all doing?" He pretty much knows the interim assignments for the bridge crew, but it's more fun to hear it from them. And cuts the awkwardness.


Crusher suddenly pushes in next to him. "Hide me. Mom, Dad, mean aunt Raffi is ruining this party."


He realizes Jack is also wearing jeans and a brown sweater and brown boots. Oh for fuck's sake, he does look like their son if they started young. He can see Seven is thinking the same thing and they move off in unison to leave him with Sidney.


"That was weird," he murmurs.




It takes a long time to cover the crowd and by the time they do, he sees his parents and sister have arrived. "Ready to meet them?"


"As ready as I'm going to be."


They're only here for the day. He tried to get them to let him pay for a hotel, but they wanted to get back to Chicago. It's how they are, not very adventurous, and he can't change that. At least they're here. He can count on one hand the number of times they've visited him instead of the other way around.


"Hey, you made it." He hugs them each, then says, "And this is Captain Seven of Nine, formerly my first officer."


"Oh, sweetheart, you're so pretty." His mom loops her arm around Seven's and drags her off.


"Fuck, Mom, take it easy on her." He waits until she's out of earshot to say it though.


"She's not going to hurt her, Liam. Relax." Janet is looking at Raffi. "Damn. So fucking pretty."


"Do you not like guys anymore?"


"Duh." And she's off, introducing herself, making Raffi laugh—really? Janet is making her laugh? Guess she does better on the prowl than at family gigs.


"So, son." His father looks around. "This turnout's all for you?"


"Yeah. This was my crew."


His dad is beaming. "Well, take me around."


"You think Seven's going to be okay? Mom's not gonna scare her off, is she?"


"Your Seven doesn't have the look of a woman who scares off easily—and they made her captain, so she has to be tough, right? Also your mother has waited for you to get serious about someone for a long, long time, my boy. Let her have this." He frowns. "Unless you're not serious. You moved in together, right? That sounded serious to us."


"It's serious. I'm like a stupid schoolboy, Dad. She's just...everything."


His father pats him on the shoulder. "That's as it should be, Liam. That's love."




Seven is listening to Liam's mom but watching his sister with Raffi. They look very comfortable. "I didn't realize Janet..."


"Oh, yes, she loves a pretty woman. But don't worry. She's not the kind to get serious. Raffi said she's your first officer, heading out with you in a year."


She nods.


"Okay, I just have a few questions and Liam will kill me for asking them so if you can not tell him..."


Seven laughs. "Okay, maybe."


"Is there any chance I'm going to get a grandchild out of this?"


"I don't think so."


"Yeah, that's what I was afraid of. Okay, then how do you feel about Christmas?"


"I have no religion but I enjoy the tree and the lights and the singing."


"Well, that's something, right?" She notices the earrings. "Those are beautiful."


"Your son has excellent taste."


"How'd he match them to your eyes that way?"


"He's just that good." And he did it before they were together. The idea of that touches her more than she can say.


"Aww, hon', you've got the sweetest look. You really love my boy?"


"I really do. I really, really do."


"Well, then that's all I need to know, isn't it? Because it's clear he's gone on you. Let's find him and his father."


She can't find Liam in the crowd, but then she looks down and feels for him, and follows what her gut is telling her. Around one group, smiling as she goes, and then another and then there he is, with his dad.


He looks up before she can call out, turns to her unerringly and she smiles.


She thinks she likes this Borg blood link.


A bell rings and it's time for lunch at the picnic tables. The senior staff and bridge crew are at the front tables with Liam and her and his parents and sister, who sits with Raffi. The rest find their places by work group for the most part.


The food is barbecue and delicious. The conversation is easy and as they are eating dessert, the gifts start.


Raffi leads off, and Seven smiles because she has seen this thing come together in her office. It's a plaque for the Titan and everyone who served under him sent in their signature to be incorporated into the design. It's copper with black and silver accents, framed in black and will look perfect in his office.


"Holy cow." He's blinking furiously.


"Did you really say holy cow?" Raffi asks him and yells, "Guys, we got him to stop swearing!"


There is a big hoot and applause and even his parents join in. He's laughing and saying, "Yeah, yeah."


But he looks so pleased. It warms her heart to see how much fun he's having.




A pile of goodies lie in front of Shaw: t-shirts that say things like "I survived the Borg...again" and "Temporarily Deactivated," knives, bottles of Chateau Picard and Malbec and Bourbon, a fabric cat toy made to look like blue steak—Shaw's sure that's from Seven and he turns to look at her and she laughs. There is a collage of stills of him looking grumpy with speech bubbles just saying, "No." A book on how to swear in a hundred languages. A chocolate wrench.


His mouth hurts from smiling and laughing.


And then people start chanting, "Jack, Jack, Jack" and he looks over at Raffi who shrugs and looks confused.


Crusher stands. "As the resident smart ass and unfortunate soul who dressed just like you two, I have been deputized to ask a very important question."


It gets very quiet.


"Did you two finally get a room or what?"


Shaw looks at Seven and lifts an eyebrow, mouthing "Your call."


She clears her throat and, with her face set at its most forbidding, says, "No, Mr. Crusher, we did not get a room." The silence grows uncomfortable, until she smiles at Shaw and nods.


"We got a whole fucking apartment!" he shouts like some old-time rocker. Then he leans over and she meets him half way and they kiss.


If a crowd can go nuts, this one does. Hooting, hollering, wolf whistles, applause. Seven has turned a very bright red, but she is laughing. Raffi meets his eyes and nods with a smile that is equal parts happy for them and wistful.


He tries to give her back one that will convey how much he appreciates everything she's done here. For him. The dipshit who got her girl.


"Speech, speech, speech," begins to sound from all over the enclosure, so he stands.


"First of all, I'm...overwhelmed by this. To see you all here. It's just...it's just everything." He can feel himself starting to tear up and decides—for once—not to fight it. He looks down at his parents and sees that they have tears in their eyes too, which only makes it harder to see. "Thank you. For the gifts, for the fun, and most importantly for the honor of serving with you.


"It's been brought to my attention recently that I have the best safety numbers in Starfleet."


People start yelling out, "Amen!" And "It's true!" And "Damn straight, sir!"


"That's not me. One man does not make a ship safe. That's you. Every damn one of you, doing your best to look out for others, to do your jobs over and above, to show up every day determined to make a difference."


"You set the tone, sir," someone yells.


"Also the benchmark for swearing," someone else calls out and everyone laughs.


"Okay, yeah, I've got a potty mouth. Don't tell my mom, okay?" He grins at her and she laughs. "But, I could set a million tones and it wouldn't have meant a damn thing without you all there to hear them. I was just..." His voice breaks, and he feels Seven's hand on his arm, giving him strength. He takes a second, then continues. "I was just so lucky to have you on my ship. You have no idea. Thank you, for this, for everything."


He sits down before he starts bawling, and hugs Seven so he can wipe his eyes without everyone seeing.


"Great speech, Admiral," she says as everyone applauds.


"Thank you, Captain."




Seven sees Janet leave with her parents and heads over to Raffi. "Got her number?"


"I did." She doesn't look at her. "You jealous?"


"Little bit, yeah."


"Thank you. That means everything." She points to where Liam is. "He's got the softest, mushiest core. It's...always a shock."


"I know."


"Did you like his parents?"


"They were really sweet. His mom wants grandkids. But she seemed to take it in stride when I said I doubted that was in the cards."


"Wow, she doesn't waste time with small talk."


"No. She really doesn't. I imagine my parents' families were like that. From the upper Midwest. Scandinavian roots. So it feels kind of right."


"So maybe it's time to try to find any family you have left?"


She shakes her head, the way she always does when they discuss this. Family means so much to Raffi. It just isn't the same for her. "No one wants their distant relative who happened to have been Borg showing up to trade cobbler recipes."


"You have a cobbler recipe?"


"No, that was a hypothetical."


"Whew. I was going to have to really object to Shaw's influence if he's got you cooking."


"Replicator only for both of us." She smiles thinking of the replicator game that is still being fine tuned but has given them no end of interesting things to try. "Thank you for doing this for him. I couldn't have pulled it together this way. So fun. So effortless."


"I used to do all the party planning for JL. I guess I'm good at it."


"You're very good at it. But you know what this means?"


"I'm in charge of parties on the ship. Unless I delegate to Tai and Miyo." She starts laughing. "They got a hell of a lot of things we were told were upgrades added back to our design plan. Who knew we were being shortchanged?"


"They knew. I really like the way they ask about things, how deeply they dive into how things work. I was wondering if we wanted to do a process study. Check for bottlenecks, single points of failure. They would be so good at that."


"I'm all for it. So long as I can still train with them." She laughs. "We'll have a ship full of underestimated people. Ohhh, and one idiot. Crusher, seriously?"


He grins unabashedly as he walks up. "Everyone asked me what I knew."


"Why you?" Raffi asks.


"Word got around Shaw got me into the new program at OCS, I guess. Or they think we're close. Or that the captain and I are, what with the shared Borg thing." He grins at Seven and she rolls her eyes. "Is it a nice apartment?"




"You ever going to invite me over for dinner?"


"Are you still avoiding Sidney? I haven't seen you two together."


"Time goes by and then it gets awkward." The look he gives her is equal parts sad and stupidly helpless.


"Sidney," she yells down the rows.


She looks up, then comes over when Seven waves her in. She sees Jack and says, "Oh, hi."


He mutters something insufficient back.


"For reasons known only to him," Seven says, "Jack wants to come to our place for dinner. I said only if you came too. He indicated he may have been an ass"—she slips her hand over his mouth when he starts to protest—"but being a boy has no idea how to talk about his feelings and repair the mess he's made."


"Pfff. Got that right."


"Please reconcile. And let me know when you're both free for dinner. Oh are either of you allergic to cats?"


"You got some already?" Raffi asks.


"No. Just being proactive."


"What if we are?" Jack asks.


"Then we will meet at a restaurant. I have been studying the care of cats. It is a well known fact that cat hair is as pernicious as lunar dust when it comes to stickiness in an environment."


"I spent my whole childhood wanting a dog. I don't even like cats," Jack says.


"Them's fighting words, Crusher." Liam pulls Raffi in for a huge hug, spinning her around.


"I guess you liked your party?"


"Loved it. You are officially on my favorite people list. If you ever need anything and Seven won't give it to you."


"What if it's Seven that I need?" She has an impish smile going.


"Anything but that. Nice try, Musiker." He looks at Seven. "Why do we care whether our mini-me here likes cats?"


"He and Sidney are coming over for dinner. Once they reconcile."


"Oh. Whatever." He gives Sidney a hug and whispers something Seven can't make out. Then he gives Jack a less robust one and says quite audibly, "Never wear what we're wearing again."


"How was I to know? She didn't put that on the invite, now did she?"


"I didn't."


"Don't you have studying to do. Or make up with Sidney if she'll have you. Whichever, just scram." He's smiling as he talks big, and Jack doesn't look cowed.


"Nice party, all. Sidney, I've been told the best apologies start with roses and champagne and truffles."


"Wayyyyy too predictable."


"Oh, someone's high maintenance."


"And don't you forget it." They walk off arguing but Seven notices they are moving closer and closer as they walk down the path.


"Who knew you were such a matchmaker, Captain?" Raffi laughs. Then she looks past them to where Tai and Miyo are coming up with an antigrav cart. "Hey, guys. We missed you."


"Sisters were in town. Took them to see whales." Tai surveys the gifts. "Nice haul, sir."


"Right? Okay be careful with this one." He's pointing to the plaque.


"That was a great idea," Seven says to Raffi.


"It scares me how well I know what he'll like."


Seven laughs. "It should terrify you, Raffi."


"Yeah. That's the better word." She turns to the tables, where janitorial bots are already cleaning up the mess. "Want to do a run through? Make sure nobody left anything?"


"Sounds good."


They leave Liam telling Tai and Miyo all about the Titan when he first got it and the boys eagerly eating it up.






Shaw is trying to figure out where to hang his Titan plaque, when Naima pokes his head into the office.


He looks starstruck.


Fuck. Only one person engenders that look around here. "Picard?"


"Yes, sir. Here. To see you, sir."


"Joy. Send him in." He doesn't turn, doesn't sit. This is how they started their relationship, with him being a total asshole. Might as well allow it to become a trend.


Plus, Picard didn't even come to see him in sickbay. He fucking died helping this man; the least he could have gotten for his trouble was some flowers.


"Well, I guess you did benefit from our association, Admiral." There's something supremely snotty in the way Picard says that—he's definitely not congratulating him.


So he doesn't turn around. "I guess that depends on how you look at it. Dying wasn't the best part."


"Well, it was temporary."


Shaw waits for some snide comment about him being Borg now too, but it doesn't come. He sets the plaque down and turns to study Picard. There's no look of a hanging "gotcha" in his face. Does he not know that Shaw's alive because of Seven?


Well, if not, let him stay ignorant.


"To what do I owe this visit, Jean-Luc?" He uses the name to piss Picard off, not because he really wants to be on a first-name basis with him.


He can see it works for how his lips tighten, his head cocks just the slightest bit. "Sit."


"I'll stand. I'm not staying that long."


Music to his ears. He sits and waits, content to let Picard just hang in the silence if he can't get to the fucking point of this little visit.


"I went to the Academy. Thought I'd surprise Jack. Imagine my surprise when I found out he wasn't there."


Shaw thinks he means embarrassment more than surprise but he holds back the comment.


"OCS, Shaw? Really? And you took him out of the Academy? You thought you could just walk in and remove him from—"


"Hell. I removed him from hell."


"Oh, pfff. Those cadets were discovered. And hazing is normal."


"Hazing? Your son was getting beaten up on a regular basis. They stabbed Seven of Nine with a Klingon dagger to set up a fellow cadet—and because they hate the Borg. This wasn't just hazing."


"Yes, well, Seven took care of that, didn't she? I read how the inquiry went. How she killed the boy who stabbed her. And the other cadets are courtmartialed."


"Your son wasn't thriving. In general."


"News to me, Admiral. How dare you interfere? Even if he asked you—"


"He didn't ask me." Shaw can't stand it. The pompous tone, the look of profound disappointment on this man's face—why? Because Shaw took more of an interest in his fucking son than Picard did? "He didn't ask me—he didn't ask anyone. He put up with it. He was on the verge of leaving, though. They had him convinced he didn't belong. He's thriving now. He's helping to prototype a new program in OCS."


"He could have gone back."


"To what? Instructors who let it happen? Other cadets who were turned Borg because of your son? You wanted him in that...why? To further preserve your legacy? So you could pop in to the Academy and show Jack how much the other cadets will salivate over you—the living legend?"


"How dare you?"


"Where were you? Why didn't you know he was in OCS?"


"I was on a speaking tour. I couldn't just stop in to see if he was all right."


"Couldn't? How about a fucking call? You chose not to know." It's suddenly so easy for him to see how this man could blithely let twenty years go by while the supposed love of his life ran the shadows of the far reaches hiding his son from him.


"I want you to stay away from Jack. From anyone in my family."


"What you want, Admiral Picard, is beyond irrelevant to me."


Picard stands straighter and pulls down his jacket. "If you're the new Starfleet, Shaw, I pity the future." Then he turns and walks out.


Shaw gets up and walks out to Naima, who's grinning like a fool.


"Sir, he's...


"Retired. He's goddamn retired. The next time he shows up unannounced, tell him he needs a fucking appointment."




Seven is working at her desk in the VOQ. Tai and Miyo are talking design details quietly at the conference table. The chime rings and they both go on alert.


"Easy, guys." She taps the monitor for the camera Raffi put on the door one day when Seven wasn't there and sees Picard. "Keep working. It's a friend. I need a break anyway."


She opens the door. "Admiral."


"Captain." He's grinning at her like a fool. "And of the ship you were so unhappy on. Shaw must be seething."


She's not sure how to answer that. He clearly doesn't know she's with Liam. So she closes the door and says, "Let's walk. I've been sitting too long."


"I remember those days."


They walk in silence until they hit the gardens and then he turns and stops her. "I need your help."


Shit. Not another "save the universe" mission?


"It's about Jack."




"Yes, I'm not happy about him being in OCS. About Shaw having just removed him from the Academy. I know the man died to protect us but I will never warm up to him or his ways. Why he got promoted is beyond—"


"Admiral, I should tell you that I'm living with the man you're about to insult."


"What?" He looks sincerely confused.


"And Jack is happy at OCS. So I don't see why he would ever want to go back to where he was."


Picard looks at her as if she has killed his dog. "I go off world for a month and everything changes."


She's not sure what to say to that.


"Jack belongs at the Academy."


"Plenty of fine officers don't go there." She waits to see if he will insult those officers—insult her. But he doesn't.


He seems to change tack. "Are you really that lonely that you need Shaw, Seven? If you can't find it in your heart to go back to Raffi, I'd be glad to set you up with a suitable partner." He's sincere, the dolt.


She holds back her anger because he's an old, out-of-the-loop man and she's not that unkind. "I love him, sir. And Raffi is going to be my first officer. She and I are fine." She wants to tell him not everyone keeps cycling around to the same lover, but she holds her tongue.


He stops walking and just looks...small. She realizes how old he really is—he's always been so full of energy on their various missions. So full of purpose. Now...


Now maybe he's living it out via Jack. Without getting close. Which seems typical for him, and that makes her sad because she thought maybe he would change. Would start to take more of an interest in the people who need him.


Fortunately, she's no longer one of them. "I have to get back to work."


"Of course. When does the Titan relaunch?"


He doesn't even know it's been rechristened? She's not going to be the one to tell him. Doesn't want to hear how she's not the kind of captain who should sit in the center seat of an Enterprise. "A little less than a year." Leave it vague, that's best.


"Well, that's wonderful, Seven." He touches her cheek.


As he turns, she asks, "The Jurati Borg. Are they still guarding the conduit."


"Last I checked."


"When was that?"


His look is some mix between weary and sheepish. "Some time ago. Why do you ask?"


"I just wondered if Agnes has been near Earth lately."


"Not that I know of."


"She doesn't talk to you?"


"Why would she? She has her own destiny now."


"Right." She pulls him in for a hug, suddenly sorry for this man who thinks that a different direction means hands off. "Take care of yourself."


"And you. Watch yourself with Shaw. I don't trust him."




He holds up a hand. "I understand. You're besotted." He turns and walks away.


She grabs some lunch and the boys' favorite cookies and takes them back to her room.


"Thank you, ma'am," they say as they dig in.


There's a message on her terminal from Liam. She opens it and sees: Picard just paid me a visit. Mad about Jack.


Same. Let it go.


Already gone. ILY/SYS.


Yes, she would see him soon.




Shaw's about to order the replicator to cough up some new dishes when the chime rings. "You expecting anyone?" he asks Seven, who's sitting at the table reading.




He goes to answer it and sees Admiral Crusher at the door. "Please tell me you are not here to give me shit about your son."


"I'm not. May I come in?"


He waves her in and says, "We're not really ready for guests. But we do have a table and chairs." He leads her out of the living room and around the corner to the kitchen/dining room area.


Seven is waiting, her look changes to confusion. "Admiral Crusher?"


"Please, both of you, call me Beverly. I think we've been through enough together, don't you?" Her smile is genuine, and not for the first time Shaw wonders what the hell she sees in Picard. Doesn't she freeze lying next to that cold fish?


She sits and nods when Shaw asks her if she wants some wine. "No Chateau Picard though. And if you tell him I said that, I'll make sure your next physical is pure hell."


He laughs. "Your secret is safe with us. Malbec okay or do you fancy something stronger?"


"Actually maybe something stronger. Do you have any Romulan Ale?"


He laughs and says, "Fresh out, I'm afraid. Bourbon do you?" He has a ton of that from the party.


"Yes. Fine." She takes a deep breath. "I know Jean-Luc came to you today. To both of you. When he commed me, he was quite..."






"Same diff."


"Liam." Seven shoots him a look. "He's upset about the Academy. We understand."


He loves how she is making this their problem instead of just his. She was seriously ticked off when he told her about the conversation he had with Picard.


"He is upset. I, however, am not. I know Jack's trying not to make waves. He wants me with his father. He's afraid he'll ruin it." She looks out the window. "Stunning view."


Shaw puts the glass down in front of her and sits between her and Seven. Neither of them say anything, just waiting for Beverly to keep going.


She takes a long sip and then swirls the liquid around the glass. "I was hoping having a son would make him more..." She sighs. "I think you both know it hasn't. He means well. He's trying. But, at his heart, he's not really made for this." She takes another sip. "If Jack trusts you both, if he needs you, you have my blessing to do whatever you think best." Another sip and the glass is empty.


Shaw gets up and brings the bottle over, refilling her glass.


"Thank you." She looks at Seven. "You didn't tell him about the ship's name change?"




"Because he insulted your man?"


"Partially. But also I didn't think it was my place if he didn't already know. Why doesn't he know?"


"Because he's too busy being Jean-Luc Picard." She takes another sip, this time more restrained. "And trying to make up his absence to the woman he was with when this all happened."


Seven frowns. "I thought he was with you."


"Briefly, but once the crisis was over...we don't work. I haven't had the heart to tell Jack that. But I'm on my way to dinner with him where I will and"—she reaches into her pocket and holds up a packet of antitox—"I will be sober when I get there, so don't worry. Just venting to my bartender, is all. Crying in my beer."


"Your bourbon beer." He reaches over and pats her hand. "Vent away."


"Thanks." She sighs. "I think it will take some of the heat off Jack if he knows that nothing he does or doesn't do is going to affect my relationship with his father. We tried again. We failed again."


"I'm sorry," Seven says, her voice full of compassion.


"I'm going off world for a while. I've been out of touch with my friends for so long. Hiding. I just want to be free to live again, you know?"


He reaches under the table for Seven's hand and finds that she's also reaching for him. She squeezes hard.


"If you need anything, we're here," he says as gently as he can.


"Just look after Jack. Give him some role models who aren't the walking wounded. Who can actually...love."


"You kept him safe all that time and gave up everything to do it." Seven lets go of his hand and gets up, walking around to hug Beverly from the back. "I think you know very well how to love."




Seven finishes up in the bathroom and crawls over Liam into bed.


"You have your own side, lots of clearance." But he's laughing.


"I just like to annoy you."


He pulls her in close. "You never annoy me."


"Give me time." She cuddles into him. "I never want to be like them. Please promise me we won't be them."


"We will not be them." He laughs softly and she tries to read the weird—almost hysterical—note she hears in the sound. "But I think we are Jack's new Mommy and Daddy."


She laughs, a small puff of air, because there's nothing really humorous about this. She just feels bad for everyone.


Including Laris, who apparently will give Picard an unlimited number of chances. Seven doesn't know her well but she saw how Picard looked at her twenty-first century doppelganger.


He strokes her cheek. "You and I, when we're done, I think we just don't ever look back. We end and we move on. Those two are stuck in a vicious loop. If they finally get out of it, maybe they'll find some happiness. I hope Beverly does. She's devoted. And she saved my life."


"For which I am profoundly grateful."


"Yeah? Want to prove it?"


She crawls on top of him. "This what you had in mind?"


He nods and pulls her down for a deep kiss.


They will not be like Picard and Crusher, burning bright and then fading away time after time. If she and Liam end, she imagines it will be with a huge explosion.


Not a whimper.






Seven follows Raffi off the Lunar shuttle and to the bus waiting to take a bunch of new captains and first officers to team building. She goes to stow her bag and it gets caught on something in the overhead and she yanks it back out, nearly hitting herself in the face with it.


"What's with you?"


"Nothing." She tries again, this time less energetically and the bag goes in. Trying not to act like she's aware how many people she's holding up, she sort of falls into the seat by the window.


Raffi tosses her bag in and shuts the compartment, then slips into the seat way more gracefully than Seven did.


"I hate training."


"Okay. But this is required."


"Liam and I didn't have to do it."


Raffi sighs. "That's because Liam wasn't a new captain. He already knew what he could and could not ask you to do. Also Liam knows the regs backwards and forwards. He probably writes them out when he's bored."


She rolls her eyes, but Raffi is right—not about the writing them out, but that he wasn't new to captaining when she replaced his outgoing first officer.


"Raff, I hate the games. I hate team-building stuff. I build a team fine when I'm just left to do it."


"This is really a class on how to avoid breaking a reg or even a law accompanied with a few icebreakers. If they called it 'How to Be a Captain and Not Go to Jail,' no one would sign up."


"I would. That sounds far more useful." She swallows. "I'm just on edge."


"Aww, missing Liam? First time away blues?"


"No. If it were that, I'm going to be so much fun when we actually launch."


Raffi laughs.


"Most of these people—including you—came up through the Academy. And weren't Borg."


"So? You'll have the most interesting backstory."


"Just once I'd like to melt into the scenery."


"Seven, you will never ever melt into the scenery. Even when you were free of your implants, you stood out for how outgoing you were."


"And how pretty I was without them."


"Uh, you're prettier with them."


She turns to look at her. "You're serious?"


"I am. Ask Liam if you don't believe me."


"I can't. He's never seen me without them. Those memories belong to you."


Raffi looks touched. "Aww, see, even bitchy as hell, you can still be so sweet."


They ride in silence for a while, then Seven decides to try to make the best of it. "Maybe the food will be good."


"Honey, the food is never good at these things." She's laughing at her now. "Avoid the Chicken Kiev."


"Raff, throw me a bone."


"The bar after hours is fun?" She looks down. "If, that is, a person drinks."


"We don't have to go to that."


"No, we should. We need to network. Get to know our new peers. This is our cohort, you know. We'll all be new to this at the same time." She takes Seven's hand only long enough to give it a quick squeeze. "It's going to be fun. Or if not fun, then fine. And it could be worse. You could be here with someone way less amusing—and tolerant of your special quirks—than me."




"See, you can see the silver lining."


"It's not silver. It's just slightly less unappealing."


Raffi shoots her the look that used to mean she wanted her to get it together; Seven imagines it still means that. "It's going to be a long three days."




Shaw is throwing things into a backpack when the chime rings. He hopes it's not the boys with furniture. He really isn't in the mood.


It's Jack. He's even less in the mood for him. "Come in. Make it quick. I'm on leave."


"Who tied your knickers in a knot?" He looks around and smiles. "Oh, is your girlfriend gone and you're lonely? Can't navigate the world anymore without Seven by your side."


"No." Well, she is gone, but that's not why he's pissed. He's got a headache, and Command has called twice over stupid things, and he just wants to get to Colorado and meet his dad for fishing. "What do you want, Jack?"


"I wanted to apologize for my father. My mother told me what happened."


He feels the anger go out of him: Jack sounds so sincere—and a little lost. "It's okay. I'm sure he painted it much rosier than your mom did."


"I wouldn't know."


"Your dad was here but you didn't see him?"


"We met for dinner. He spent the time not talking about you and telling me stories of all his fun times at the Academy. He wants me to give it another chance. I, uh...I may have left the dinner early."


"You mean you stormed out like a brat?"


"No. I mean I said I was going to the restroom, paid the bill before I left, told the host to wait five minutes and then tell him I had gone."


"You paid the bill? He's the admiral."


"I don't want to owe anyone anything. Except you. I'm okay with owing you."


He sits down and stares at him. "He's your dad and you just left him?"


"I'd found out the night before that he and my mother are done, again. Why should I sit there listening to him wax rhapsodic over a place I consider my personal hell?" He turns to go. "Anyway, I just wanted to say sorry."


God damn it. Shaw actually feels sorry for him. "What are you doing now? You and Sidney have a date or...?"


"No. I'm still in the 'proving I'm worth another chance' phase. It's not going well because I'm not trying that hard."


"Yeah, why would you want a lovely woman who's smart enough to actually keep up with you, fun enough to accompany you on some of your mischief, and will call you on your bullshit?"


"Well, when you put it that way." He looks down. "What if I'm just like him? What if I'm not meant to actually..."


"What? Form human relationships that don't end when the mission is done?"


Jack meets his eyes, and Shaw sees that he hit way too close to home. "Yeah, exactly."


Now he feels even worse. He wishes he didn't feel so on edge. He is missing Seven. He's seen her every day for two years on the ship. And lately, off the ship, in new and interesting ways. Why wouldn't he be missing her?


"Jack, you're not your dad."


He just looks glum.


"You ever been to Colorado?"




"You have any moral issues against fishing?"


"I don't know. I've never gone."


"You got anything else to do this weekend? Otherwise, you're going fishing with my dad and me."


He holds his hands up. "I don't want to horn in on your father/son time."


"It's fishing, Jack—not family therapy. Are you in or not?"


"Yeah, okay, but I don't know what to wear."


"What you've got on is fine. For the special gear, just go to the refresher and order the same combo I did in your size. There's a spare backpack in the closet." He finishes packing, closes up his pack, goes to the kitchen and packs another baggie of trail mix for Jack, digs out his other collapsible fishing rod from the office closet, and says, "Are you ready?"


Jack comes out with the spare backpack; he's holding the hip-waders. "Why do these boots go up so high?"


"Because you're going to be standing in a river. They go over your shoes—do not wear them in town. I'm not walking with you if you're wearing them."


"Umm, yeah, I wasn't planning on pulling them on in town. Or maybe at all."


"It's gonna be fun. Do you have fun planned somewhere else?"


Jack shakes his head.


Shaw shoves the rod and trail mix at him. "Then shut up and come on."




Seven is in her room, waiting for Liam to call her back. The class was boring but not particularly stressful—Raffi was right, minimal team building, maximum "do this and you'll be in trouble."


They spent some time in the bar until Raffi told her to go to sleep and she'd hold down the fort as far as networking went. But Seven owed her. When doesn't she?


Her terminal pings and she answers, smiles when she sees his face. "Is it the connection or are you sunburned?"


"The latter. I went fishing with my dad on the Eagle River—took Jack with me."


"You did?"


"He came over to apologize for his dad. He just seemed so... The kid's never seen a decent father-son relationship. I love my dad and I thought it would be good for him to just sort of..."


"Bathe in the wonder that is a normal family unit?" She smiles at him. He can be so kind.


"Yep. My dad remembered him from the party, took right to him, gave him no end of quiet shit the way he does. I think Jack had a really good time—he even caught a gorgeous rainbow."


She makes a face. "A rainbow what?"


"Trout. Delicious fish."


"Ah, that makes more sense." She imagines Liam's dad with Jack, the different from Picard almost unobtrusive presence of him. His sweet gentleness. It was probably a great experience for Jack. "That was so nice of you. I love you."


"I love you too. I really miss you."


"Same. I'm used to seeing you every day."


"Yeah, on the ship, then now. It's our normal. This isn't." He looks down.


"I know. I've been thinking about what it will be like. Not being with you while I'm on the ship."


He looks up, resolve clear in his eyes. "It will be fine because I have proven I can find you." His grin is super silly. "Especially if you give me coordinates."


She laughs, feeling the strain of the day wearing off. "Did you have to take this class?"


He nods. "Hated every minute of it."




"I already knew the regs. And the icebreaker stuff was bullshit. And everyone in my class came up Academy and command track. Not an engineer in the bunch." He studies her. "Your cohort not what you'd want?"


"No, they're fine. Raffi's doing most of the mixing. Which is probably for the best. She's better at it than I am."


"Is she?" He makes a funny face.


"Well, she is here. I've been in a mood."


"I understand. If I hadn't been thigh deep in cold mountain water catching some beautiful fish that we fried up and ate, I'd have been sour too."


"Do you think I'd like to fish?" She rests her head on her arms as she talks to him.


"Probably not. But it's also fun to ride horses there or hike. In the winter, there's skiing."


The sound of his voice is relaxing her to such an extent she can feel her eyes closing.


"Baby, you're beat. Go to sleep. It's three hours ahead there."


"Can you tell me about fishing until I'm out."


"I can most certainly do that."


She gets into bed and curls up so she can see the screen. He starts with how to put the rod together and get the fly ready. She's out before he goes much further.




Shaw is in his office. He was antsy at the apartment so he decided to come in and work where he wouldn't be constantly reminded of Seven.


He hears someone come into the outer office and says loudly, "I'm in here."


He looks up and for a moment, he's seeing a ghost. Then a wide smile breaks out on her face and he closes his eyes and exhales. It's not T'Veen come to haunt him for failing to protect her: it's her twin sister. "T'Vara. What are you doing here?"


"I want to serve where she did. In her seat." It comes out in a rush, the opposite of how T'Veen spoke, so unVulcan.


"They're refitting the ship so it won't be her seat and I'm not the captain anymore."


She frowns at him with such emotion, it's almost a shock. He has to remind himself that T'Veen seemed to get all the Vulcan mojo while T'Vara skews Deltan like their grandmother. In temperament at any rate—genetically they were identical.


"I do know the new captain. I can certainly set up a meeting for you."


"Really? I'd like that. Is it Hansen?"


"Seven of Nine."


She looks confused but says, "Seven of Nine, okay. What happened to Hansen?" She meets his eyes, hers searching and uncertain.


"Hansen's real name is Seven of Nine. I was just being a jerk insisting she use her human one."


"Oh. Why?"


She does not lack her sister's brusqueness. "Long story. Not for now."


"Okay. Do you think she would let me on? I know I'm not T'Veen..." She meets his eyes fearlessly. She's not like her sister but she's still exceptional in her own right. T'Veen loved to sing her twin's praises.


"I can't say what she'll do. Make your case. Your case, not just that your T'Veen's sister."


"Understood." She wanders over to the Titan Plaque. "Here she is." She runs her fingers over the signature of T'Veen.


She had no choice on being on his plaque or not, but he likes to think she would be happy she is.


"How did it happen? One moment I could feel her, and the next she was just...gone."


"She was shot. It was a surprise. She died instantly." He's not going to give her the real story, how Vadic tortured them with who would be shot. Let her think her sister was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. "I miss her."


"I do too," she whispers, still tracing the signature. "She loved you. She loved serving on your ship. I wish you were still the captain."


"Admirals don't captain ships. That's why there are captains." He smiles gently at her. "My ship days are over."


She nods. "The new captain—Seven of Nine—is nice?"


"Well, I happen to be crazy about her." He smiles in a way that T'Vara will instantly understand. T'Veen might not have. Although she was one of the ones who used to mutter, "Get a room," so maybe that Deltan heritage was stronger than just her lack of hair.


"Ahhh. And you're a hard grader. T'Veen always said so."


"I am. And if you can secure a slot on her ship, I think you'll be happy. She's ex Borg. She knows what it's like to defy expectations." He knows T'Vara has always had a hard time fitting in on Vulcan, that if she hadn't had T'Veen, she'd have been very unhappy growing up there.


"Thank you." She walks around the desk and hugs him quickly. "Thank you for keeping her safe as long as you did."


But for Picard, she might have made it home alive. Then again the whole of Starfleet and the Federation might be Borg if not for Picard, so even though he doesn't like the guy, he has to give him credit.


He did save them all.




Seven slings her bag over her shoulder and walks with Raffi to the VOQ before turning for home. She's been feeling more herself the minute the shuttle home took off. Every parsec closer she breathed a little easier.


Social situations are still fraught for her at times. Her tendency to say what she thinks rather than what is politic often gets her into trouble.


Only this instructor seemed to enjoy her bluntness. And she started enjoying her classmates on the second night. Raffi was pleased with her.


She palms into the apartment building, smiles at the concierge, and is into the elevator and speeding to the tenth floor.


He's waiting for her at the door. "I felt you coming. Is that supposed to happen?"


She pushes him back into the apartment, drops her bag, and starts pulling off his clothing.


"Whoa. The boys are here." He starts tucking clothes back in.


"For real? I want to fuck."


He laughs and says, "They're almost done."


"I want to fuck now."


He pushes her against the wall and kisses her, shutting her up, and she hears one of the boys say, "Welcome home, Captain," and then they are out the door.


"Are they done? Can we have sex now?"


He peeks around the corner and makes a sad face. "Just a few more things. Go unpack." He actually slaps her on the butt to get her going.


She whirls and pushes him back against the wall, kissing him hard and murmuring, "You will pay for that later."


"Promises, promises."


By the time she's done unpacking, the boys are laying out the last of the living room furniture. "Wow."


"You like?" Tai asks, satisfaction clear on his face.


"It's the weirdest combination of colors and patterns I've ever seen," Liam says. "And it totally works. Our friends might want to hire you."


"That'd be okay with us." They glance at her. "What do you think, Captain?"


She sits on each piece, amazed at how even the things that don't seem like they'd be comfortable are. "I love this."


They both beam.


"Boys, if there's nothing more to do, my lady here is very tired after her journey."


They quickly gather their things and leave.


She loves that the glass in this building is filtered—that even though they can see out, no one can see in. She begins to peel off her clothes and tells Liam to do the same. Then she pushes him onto the new couch and stops. "Should we be more respectful of the furniture?"


"Look at these prints. They'll show nothing. Disrespect away."


She laughs and crawls on top of him, taking no time to play, just sinking down onto him, and sighing at the connection. They don't even move for the first few seconds, just sit, foreheads pressed together, hands clasped.


Then she starts to move and it's quick. For her, for him, neither can wait. She stays on top of him as they kiss leisurely, just enjoying the sensation of being together again. "I really missed you, Liam."


"Same here. I'm so glad you're home."






Seven walks with Liam to Command. Janeway has asked to speak with them. In an official capacity, arranged through her assistant, not as a friend.


"Do you have any idea what we're in for?" he asks quietly. "This isn't about our relationship, is it?"


"She would have said something earlier, I think."


"Well, let's find out what the very important admiral wants then." He settles his hand on the small of her back for a moment. "At least we're together. If she's firing us, she's firing both of us."


"I doubt she's firing us. I learned a lot in that seminar even if I found the icebreaking wearing. You and I never broke any rules as captain and first officer."


"Except the one about falling in love."


"True. But we didn't act on it until you were out of my chain of command."


"Would we have? If we'd figured it out earlier?" He's smiling so gently, his tone the easy one she loves, when he's trying to figure things out, ever the problem solver.


"Would you have broken the rules?"


"For you, Seven, anything is possible. Would you have wanted that?"


"I wish I could say no, but yes, probably."


"The rebel."


"Always, apparently." They turn into Janeway's suite, go past a general receptionist before they get to her assistant.


Tom Paris is sitting on the desk grinning. "Hello, Seven. Hello, Seven's fellow who will be at our house eventually for dinner."


"I think he just goes by Admiral Shaw," the assistant says, her tone acerbic.


"Marjorie never thinks I'm as funny as I think I am."


"He's not wrong." She smiles at them both. "She's waiting for you."


"Thank you," Seven says. "Captain Paris, lead the way?"


"Oh, I'm not going in there. Not yet, anyway." He gives her a smile she can't read then motions them toward an open door behind Marjorie's desk.


Janeway is frowning as she reads something on her terminal. "Sit down, both of you. I have to reply to this." She types furiously for a minute, reads over what she did, then hits a key and turns to them. "I'm sure you're curious why you're here."


They both nod.


"Full membership for the Jurati Borg has been granted."


Seven smiles but Liam says, "This soon?"


"Let me finish?"


"Sorry. But it's only been two years."




He pretends to zip his lips and she laughs. "The queen is on her way here for the final negotiations, which are pretty much pro forma. They don't want territory other than the space they occupy in front of the conduit, so their representatives should have an easy time of this."


Seven still doesn't know why they are here.


"So, can one of you tell me why the Jurati Queen is asking for you two to serve as her representatives?"


He looks at Seven and she forces herself to face Janeway.


"Okay, based on your reaction, I'm going to assume you have some idea, Liam. But Seven, I think, holds the whole story."


She licks her lips, knows she is swallowing hard.




Sighing, she meets Janeway's eyes. "How much do you know of what happened on the Stargazer with them?"


"I imagine I know as much as Jean-Luc bothered to put in the reports. Which was virtually nothing. He recognized the Borg Queen was his old friend, stopped the self-destruct, let her temporarily assimilate the fleet to keep the pulse from destroying untold number of lives, and then she let them all go when the danger passed. What am I missing?"


She takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. She knows Liam is watching her closely. "Q was there."


"Oh, joy."


"We were sent to an alternate universe—what Earth and the Federation might have been like if things had gone differently. I, in that reality, had never been assimilated. No implants. No Borg in me."


"Go on."


"That was the only good thing about it. Everything else was horrible. We stole the Borg Queen, who was being held captive until her execution—these humans had wiped out the rest of the Borg, and we used her to get us to the spot of divergence."


"You time travelled?"


She nods.


"And Agnes Jurati was with you?"


"Yes. Eventually, to stop the Queen from killing an innocent, Agnes killed her. But...mercy and an inherently impulsive personality somehow made her allow the queen to assimilate her as she was dying. They became one. And things went downhill. In the fighting for control of the ship, I was stabbed by the Agnes-Queen. Fatally, only it was a slow death—or would have been if Agnes had not convinced the Queen that they could try a new way, a...consensual way. So she saved me by..."


"Oh, Seven, no."


"It's not a complete assimilation. Most of the time, I am completely unaware of her. But I am her first consensual child. For reasons only perhaps Q can explain, my implants returned. It made no sense to me. I should have been turned Borg or not changed, but...there I was. Marred. Imperfect."


Liam reaches over to touch her arm. "You never told me this."


"Only Raffi knows how much I hate these things. How freeing it was to be...human." She realizes she has teared up and wipes her eyes angrily.


"And Liam?"


"I used nanoprobes to bring him back."


"Yes, as you did with Neelix."


"There are differences. We are..." She looks at Liam.


"In sync. It's how I found her the night she was stabbed. I had no coordinates, no clue where she was."


"You found her in San Francisco without knowing where she was?"


"Yes. I just felt her in my blood, I guess."


"And you didn't tell us this, Seven, because you knew I'd assume you were using the Delta Quadrant's queen's nanoprobes?"


"Yes. But they had degraded or I would have saved Icheb with them." She stumbles over his name.


"Icheb is dead?"


"Torn apart for his Borg parts—they were removed without even the most basic anesthetic. He...he was in agony and there was no way to help him. He asked me to end it, so I did. I shot my son." She has to wipe her eyes again. "It took me over a decade, but I found his murderer. And I executed her." She looks down. "But the Agnes nanoprobes were new. Technically they'd been given to me four hundred years ago, but Q brought us forward so they were fresh when Liam needed them."


She turns to him. "I had no reason to think they would be any different than what I did for Neelix. He recovered and was the same. I promise you that."


"I believe you." His eyes are very gentle.


"So you're hers now?"


"I do not consider myself that. I am Starfleet. I am human. I am ex-Borg."


"Well she clearly considers both of you hers. Are you willing to step into these roles?"


Liam is quick to answer. "Why are they being given full membership now? The steps are clearly outlined: provisional to associate to full. It's way too early."


Janeway hits an intercom on her desk. "Tom...?"


The door opens and he comes in carrying two padds. "Oh, today is a good day. For I have won the bet and the bounty is a twenty-five year old Scotch." He hands them each a padd. "Sign the NDA, please."


Seven signs but Liam actually reads the entire thing,


"Oh, Liam, I love you." She turned to Tom. "You may get the Scotch but I get the coffee beans you had shipped from Kona."




Seven frowns. "I don't understand."


"Oh, we have bets all the time. He said this one would question why they were getting membership now. I thought he'd go along. Clearly I need to get to know you better, Liam. However, I said that one or both of you would read what you were signing." She looks at Seven. "Seriously? I could have been asking for your first-born child."


"I plan no children."


"Not the point."


Liam finally signs and Tom takes the padds back, then leaves.


"We're keeping this very close hold obviously. While Starfleet was otherwise engaged, there were incursions all along the quadrant. Some were even friends—associate members, aligned planets." She sighs. "The Jurati Borg took care of all of them. Most with no casualties. They more than proved their worth. We want to keep them on our side. They could just have easily aligned with those taking advantage of our total focus on the Borg."


"I don't have a problem representing them," Liam says, no hesitation in his voice.




"If you order me to, I will."


"I'm not going to order you. If Liam is willing, why aren't you?"


"Because I'm not Borg!" She shouts it. She's immediately shocked. "In case you've forgotten, I was recently stabbed because someone thought I was Borg. Why is she doing this?"


"I assume because of Liam."




"Explain it to her, Admiral Shaw."


He takes her hand. "I am on record as hating the Borg. I chose an ex-Borg first officer because I saw it as a way to help someone out of their own personal hell—and I couldn't understand how you weren't already Starfleet after all the things you did to get Voyager home." He gives Janeway a dirty look.


"I did threaten to resign if they didn't offer her a commission."


"How energetically? I can't imagine Starfleet denying you anything. Especially back then, after the Dominion War, when your ship's return was the one thing that could take people's minds off the war, and all the shit that was done during it."


She looks down. "The words passed my lips."


He reaches for Seven's hand and holds on gently. "You and I are the last people to support the Borg. So that must mean the Jurati Borg are not the real Borg. It'll make people feel better—an endorsement of sorts—especially since this is happening so soon after the attack." He lets go of her hand. "I reserve the right to check out of this if I don't believe the Jurati Borg Queen."


"By all means. I trust your instincts."


Seven feels outmaneuvered by Janeway who set this up and by Liam, who got it before she did. And she's overwhelmed, reliving her almost death, her second assimilation, how badly it all hurt, the feeling of her implants, all over her body, only a few show.




She nods.


"Excellent. I'll send you all the information you'll need to do this. The queen is due in at the end of the week, the negotiations are set for Saturday, the announcement—if all goes well—for Sunday. Thank you both. For helping and the background."


They get up and she follows Liam out. They are silent until they get to his office, saying hello to Naima, and then once seated at his desk with the door shut, he turns to her.


She sits across from him and meets his eyes.


"I noticed neither of us mentioned that the Agnes-Queen talks in our heads from time to time."


"We sure didn't." She doesn't look away. "Do you think we should tell her that?"


"Oh, fuck, no. We'll keep that our little secret. So far the Agnes-Queen hasn't done anything bad. She's just helped save our respective lives."




"Will you tell me about Icheb someday?"


"Yes. Someday." She sighs and looks at the floor. "I wish you could have seen me human. Fully human, I mean."


"Seven I can't even imagine you without the implants. They're you. And I love you. You're who you are because of them. If they cause you psychic pain, then that just makes you all the more exceptional in my eyes. That you find a way to help, that you brighten people's day, that you are the loveliest, warmest woman I know. You're so beautiful to me. Don't you realize that?"


She smiles and reaches across his desk for his hand. "I'm so glad you picked me."


"So am I."






Shaw sits with Seven in the living room reading up on the background material Janeway has sent them on the Jurati Borg. He can tell Seven is restless because she's making the impatient sighs he thinks she doesn't even realize are one of her tells. "You want to go swimming?"


She puts down the padd with a smile. "Yes."


They change quickly into swimwear, throw robes on, and head to U3.


He can see one of the saunas is in use, and in the back corner he hears quiet laughter from one of the jacuzzis, but the pool is theirs. "Race?" he asks once they've kicked off their slippers and robes.


She shakes her head and dives in before he can, heading out with strong strokes toward the far end of the pool.


Heading out alone.


He wants to go after her, to make her stop and tell him more about the implants she lost and then got back, the son he didn't even know she had, the reluctance she's feeling.


But they aren't joined at the hip and she needs to meet him halfway on this or him reaching all the way will become the norm. So he dives in and concentrates on his stroke—it's been a long time since he swam this deliberately but he needs to sink into it and ignore Seven. He has a feeling his focus will drive her crazy if she's ready to talk, or he may be swimming a lot of fucking laps if she's not.


He alternates between the three strokes he's actually good at—the butterfly always seems like more effort than it's worth, especially when he's never going to be serious about swimming. But it's great exercise and he loves the way water feels.


He's on his breaststroke, many laps in, when he realizes Seven is waiting for him at the wall. He slows and when he gets to the wall, puts his hand up to steady himself as he catches his breath, but he smiles lazily at her so she knows she can talk if she wants.


She moves in closer and he pulls her in with his free hand, letting her wrap her arms and legs around him, nothing sexual in the movement. It's more like she's trying to burrow into him.


"Baby, what is it?"


"What if I never get away from them?"


"From the Borg?"


She nods.


"How far away do you want to get?" He lets go of the wall and they tread water to stay afloat. Tracing her brow implant, he leans in and kisses her.


"I was so different, Liam. Without that. Without this." She holds up her left hand and shakes it, water splashing. "Without all of them. I...people liked me. They didn't have to get to know me, they just treated me like I was human. Before I went on that mission, being like this was all I knew. But now? Now I know what I'm not getting, do you understand that? I know that I'm not treated the way I would be if I were just a human."


"I do understand that. But if you were just a human, we would probably never have met beyond the interview. You were tied with another commander as far as qualifications I considered critical. I found your story intriguing. Your Borg story. Another survivor. I didn't expect you to embrace the Borg name, to be so..."




"Yes. Your file said Annika Hansen. I didn't know."


"Would you have picked me if you had?"


"We had an interview. You told me to call you Seven at the interview. I picked you anyway."


"But you didn't call me Seven once I was on your ship." She studies him, scratching his back gently the way he likes. "Did you think you could save me from myself? Turn me less Borg?"


"Maybe. And then once it had been a few months, I was stubborn. Didn't want to cry uncle and just call you Seven the way I should have from the start."


She laughs. "You? Stubborn?"


"I know. Shocking." He doesn't try to kiss away the possible sting of his answer. Doesn't try anything to distract her. "But instead I fell in love with the actual woman. And then she saved me."




He remembers Fellaran, about a year before the thing with Picard. A supposedly easy mission gone horribly upside down. How she tended to him, even though she was also injured. How she beamed back the rest of the away team but wouldn't leave him. "Yes, twice. So see, I was right to pick you." He nuzzles her neck. "I will always pick you, Seven. Always."


She turns and again seems to be trying to lose herself in him. "Tell me it'll be all right working with the Jurati Borg and I'll believe you."


"Why wouldn't it be all right?" He swims them over to a shallower part of the pool and hikes her up so he can hold her for real without danger of going under. "I'll protect you. I know you'll protect me. And, Seven, she hasn't done anything to make me think she wishes us ill. The opposite, in fact."


"All right." She kisses his neck, moving up to his ear, whispering, "I want to tell you about Icheb."




He holds her the entire time, as she whispers the story to him, fills in the details of a fellow Borg escapee, a boy she loved, a man she was proud of.


A son she had to kill.


He's crying with her by the time she's done and holds her tightly. "I'm so sorry."


She eases away and wipes his face. "I wish you could have met him. He was exceptional."


"Of course he was. He had you."




Seven's in her VOQ office/quarters with Raffi when the chime rings. She checks the camera monitor and starts to laugh as she says, "Come."


Janeway walks in and Raffi immediately mutters, "Shit, Seven," and pretends to be totally engaged in her padd.


"Commander Musiker."


"Admiral." She looks up, gives the most sheepish smile she can, then looks down. "Do you need the room, ma'am?"


"That would be nice. Thank you."


She nods and gets up quickly.


"Raffi?" Janeway smiles at her. "Thank you. For everything you did. I have no doubt I may find you camped out in front of my office again someday. But...Starfleet owes you."


"Thank you, Admiral." Her smile is the one Seven likes best—surprised and shyly grateful all at once. "I'll leave you two to it."


Once she's gone, Janeway sits. "Where are the Simkins?"


"Decorating our guest room. They're multi-talented."


"So it would seem." She sits and exhales as if letting out more than just air. "Should I tell the Jurati Queen to find someone else? Our meeting has stayed with me—your reaction."


"No. I knew Agnes. I cared about her. I think...I think that's partially why it hurt so much. I'd never had someone I cared about assimilated. To be honest, being on the ship with a Borg Queen was stressful enough."


"And yet you and Liam seem to be looking after the young Picard prince."


"He's not Borg."


"At his deepest core, he is." She studies Seven. "Do you trust him?"


"Do you not?"


"He's not like you, Seven. You were fully human, then assimilated. He was born Borg."


She wants to jump to his defense, but forces herself to talk calmly. "He's just a kid. I don't care how old he is, he never got a chance to have anything normal in his whole life. What happened wasn't his fault. And yes, I trust him."


"Would you trust him around the Jurati?"


"Of course. It might actually be helpful for him to meet them. To understand that his vision—the good the Queen let him think he was doing—really is happening with the Jurati."


"Then you have my permission to do it. If he wants—or needs—to go with them, I want you to let him."


She's shocked. "Do you want him to go with them?"


"No, but I want him to have a choice. There were times, after we severed your link, that I thought maybe I had taken something precious from you. I'd do it again in a heartbeat, but what if the Seven of then, the younger you, had met the Jurati? Would you have continued on with us or stayed with them?"


"I don't know. I think it likely I would have followed you into hell."


"You did, Seven. Multiple times." She sighs. "Those times. The things I did. Sometimes I wish I felt worse about them."


"With all due respect, Kathryn. You wouldn't be you if you did."


She laughs and nods. "I have missed you, Seven. I'm here for you. If you ever need an ear."


"Thank you. Same."


"And let's make sure Jack meets her. Also let's make sure his parents don't know."


She laughs. "That's not actually that difficult. Especially where his father is concerned."


"Mmm. I had a little crush on him once upon a time. But he's far too serious."


"And too cold. You need warmth to bring out your own."


"You're not wrong. And Chakotay is warm."


"Yes, he is. Especially when he's truly in love. Which he always was—with you." She makes her smile as loving as she can, to show she really is fine with all this. "You're happy?"


"Oh unbearably. We're...sappy sometimes. It's sickening." She grins.


"I"m glad."




Shaw is getting ready to meet the Jurati Queen for prep before tomorrow's negotiations when his terminal sounds the tune he programmed in for his father. "Hey, Dad."


"Your uncle isn't using his cabin near Mount Rainier. Great fishing up there. You in?"




"I'm going Sunday."


"I can't. Heading a delegation for—well, it's an odd one. But I'm busy all weekend."


"Always in demand, my boy." His father smiles, then says, "You think Jack might want to go?"


Shaw knows Jack is meeting the Jurati Queen before the negotiations begin tomorrow but Sunday he might be free. "Here's his direct number." He keys in the code. "Ask him."


"He had fun last time, right?"


"Sure seemed like it."


"Okay, have fun with your oddness."


"Will do." He cuts the connection and hears Seven outside talking to Naima. Gathering his things, he joins her. "Ready?"


"I am." She doesn't sound it though. She is walking more slowly than her norm. "Her appearance..."


"She sent photos. I know what she'll look like."


"It's different in person."


"Relax, okay?" They round the corner to the conference room they've been given to work in, two security officers stand outside.


Shaw can't tell if they're young enough to have been turned or not. He doesn't ask them, just follows Seven into the room.


Three Borg sit at the table but it is the one looking out a window that captures his eye.


Her voice, when she says, "Two of two. At last in person," is the one that was in his head when he was watching his body, and later when he was finding Seven. She turns and he thinks she isn't that bad in person, no attachments—she looks like something other than the Borg he's seen images of.


"Ma'am," he says as courteously as he can.


She turns to Seven. "One of two."


"My name is Seven of Nine and you know it."


"That queen no longer has claim. You were One of One and then you brought him into this, and now you are both ours." She gestures to chairs. "But we will honor your old name if that is what you prefer. Sit."


Seven doesn't move so he doesn't either. "We came to discuss the negotiations, Agnes."


"There's no need. Everything's fine. We only asked for you because we wanted to be represented by friends—and to have a chance to be with you. Our first." She looks over at Liam. "And one of our latest."


His eyebrow goes up. "You've managed to find someone else who wanted to be assimilated in the last couple months?"


She actually frowns. "Your words make no sense, Two of Two."


"You were calling me that when I was floating."


"You were floating because we were calling you that. You were already ours even if neither of you is technically assimilated." She frowns again. "You don't know." She looks at Seven. "Neither of you do. Curious."


"What is curious?" Seven moves toward her.


"Your blood mingled over a year ago. On a planet, not a ship. On a mission, not a war. He was bleeding, so were you. We felt it, when your blood and his...became one."


He sees the color drain from Seven's face.


"He has been ours ever since. He has been yours ever since. Two of two. But blood is one thing and a direct injection of nanoprobes is another. It was only last month that what was half was made whole."




"Yes." The queen looks from Seven to him, seems to be assessing him. "He doesn't understand."


"But I do. You were so...desperately lonely when you made me."


"Yes, we were. Many of the ones we brought in during that first year felt the connection you two do."


"The connection you made. The connection you forced." Her voice cracks and she turns on her heel and walks out.


"Seven..." he stops when she holds up her hand, her expression as angry and hurt as he's ever seen it—only he doesn't know what he did.


Then she walks out.


"Sit, Two of Two."


"I need to talk to her."


"You need to understand." As she moves closer, the other Borg block the door. "We will not hurt you. But you need to understand."


He doesn't sit but he turns back to her. "So tell me what I need to know."


"We were once two people. A lonely human, Agnes Jurati, depressed, isolated even when surrounded by others, and a Queen without her drones, angry and bitter. There was pain, there was loss. And then there was union. We began, two in one body." She moves away from him, as if she can tell he is getting uncomfortable in her presence.


He glances back at the other three, but they haven't moved any closer.


"When we made our first children, that loneliness, that need for connection, it transferred. Physical closeness was a need that would not be denied. Four hundred years later, we have had ample time to perfect our technique, to give only what is needed, but back then, we were young and felt everything. And the one of us who is Agnes loved Seven of Nine as a friend, even as a sister of sorts. It was that love that created us, our bond, our union. Seven has more of us in her than any other of our children."


"Are you saying she's a queen?"


"No. She is not a drone, either. There are no drones in our collective. Only members. Individuals voluntarily coming together and making up a great chain."


"I don't see the problem then."


"You found her when she was dying. The connection between you is growing and will continue to grow until it reaches it's potential. That connection can be through love or that can be through imprinting. The way a drone does on the queen."


"You said she wasn't one."


"Yes, we did. But she does not know that. She only knows that you loved her after your blood mingled the first time. Are you with her freely or by compulsion?"


"I'm with her freely."


"We believe that too." Her smile is actually full of compassion. "We also believe you will have to find a way to make her believe it. We can feel her pain. We can always feel her pain."


"Did you come here to do this? To...ruin her happiness?"


"No. We thought she would understand, when you told her of being in the between space, your spirit waiting for her to bring you back. That you were already linked. We regret causing her pain. You must find her before the negotiations. She must represent us. You both must. She is the best of what can come when coercion is set aside, when freedom to choose is allowed and you chose to be with her despite the pain the Borg have caused you."


"But you're saying I didn't choose."


"We are not saying that. But only you can decide if that is true or not. We will tell you more when you return, but it is imperative that you find her. You know how now. Go. Bring her home."


He turns and the Borg at the door shift back, like liquid, like a flock of birds, never colliding or impeding his progress. He stops outside the door and reaches for Seven, closing his eyes, and then...there.


He finds her at an overlook, on the edge of campus, staring out at the water.


"You never had a choice, Liam. Our blood..." She turns to him and she has not been crying. In her eyes is a steely resolve that he finds far more disquieting. "You had no choice."


"That's bullshit."


"No. It's not. I had no choice either. I had to bring you back."


"Okay, maybe, just maybe, by that point, we were in too deep to ever turn our backs on each other. But it took Picard, it took changelings, it took losing T'Veen, it took all of that to get us there. Not some fucking blood mingling over a year ago."


"But wasn't that the start? Isn't that when you started to soften? It's when I started to feel welcome."


"Soften? Seven, I was injured because they had their sights on you. I wasn't going to let anything happen to you—not to you. I pushed you out of the way knowing I might get shot and I didn't care. And then you wouldn't leave me. I'd done everything I could to save you and you wouldn't fucking leave me. How could I not soften? How could I not let you in—at least a little?"


"But maybe you didn't have a choice. If our blood..."


"I didn't want a choice. I was gone. Completely and utterly gone. Why do you think I stayed in my ready room so much before and after that mission? Let you have the conn? Sitting next to you, wanting you, knowing I'd hurt you, I'd been an ass. It was just easier to stay away." He moves closer to her, makes sure she isn't going to run before taking her shoulders. "Your blood didn't call to me until you gave me the nanoprobes. It was the first time I'd felt that...connection. Or the loss of it, really. When I was beamed off the ship to Starfleet Medical."


"I felt it then too, I knew you were gone."


"I would have died for you twice, and you saved me both times. And we're doing those things because we love each other. We don't love each other because of your nanoprobes. They're just...weird icing on the cake that is us."


She laughs, clearly against her will because she lets her hands fall onto his chest in a gentle punch. "I don't want you to ever have to be with me."


"And I don't want you to ever have to be with me either. We're free. We can leave at any time. But I for one don't want to. I'm all in here, Seven. You're the one for me. And I like it. I like being happy. If that woman in there did that to us, then I say let's get her some fucking flowers."


"She will see no use for them."


"You don't actually know that." He pulls her in gently. "We don't know her. And it's our job to know her. So let's go back, all right? Let's get to know her." He strokes her hair as he holds her. "Together."


She finally pulls back enough for him to kiss her, which he does, a little desperately but she's kissing him back the same way. They finally pull away.


"Don't run, Seven."


"I wanted to."


"I know but don't do it. You'd break my heart. And I don't have much of it left that's not owned by you." He holds out his hand. "Ready?"


She meets his eyes and nods. "Ready."






Seven walks with Shaw back through campus to the conference room and the Jurati. He's holding her hand, not tightly, not as if he thinks she's going to run away—but in support, in solidarity, and apparently in a big "fuck you" to anyone who thinks senior officers shouldn't stroll through the grounds acting like infatuated teenagers.


But she won't lie: his touch is keeping her grounded, keeping her from flight.


He does drop it as they enter the building, but not without a squeeze and a murmured, "It'll be okay."


As they round the corner to the conference room, Jack is pacing outside the room.


"Your appointment is tomorrow," Liam says.


"I know. But then your dad called. And he had the cabin. And we could have two days not just one."


"The point of this is nowhere in evidence, Jack." She sounds harsh, harsher than she means to, but he doesn't seem to mind.


"You told me to make it right with Sidney, Seven. And...she loves fishing and she loves that mountain. It's like her mountain or something—I really don't get it, but it's apparently suitably extra in the making amends department when compared to roses and chocolates. And your dad will love her."


Liam puts a hand on his shoulder. "So are you asking if you can see the Queen early?"


"Oh, God no. I just walked right in. She is fucking weird, by the way. No thank you." He gives them a look that makes them both laugh. "I just wanted to make sure it was okay that I included Sidney in this and that I was taking up the whole weekend with your dad. I mean I know I act like I own the world, but I'm fully cognizant that he is your father, Liam, not mine."


"If it makes Sidney happy, go for it."


"Thank you!" And he's off and running down the halls as if this isn't a place where running down the halls is generally reserved for actual emergencies.


"Kids," Liam says, shaking his head.


"It would seem we are giving your parents grandchildren with no effort on our part."


"No—did Mom grill you about grandkids? She promised she wouldn't."


"She was very sweet." She glances at the door to the conference room. "She put no pressure on."


"You're stalling."


"I am, but I also need to tell you something." She pushes him so he walks back around the corner and tells him what Janeway told her about letting Jack go with the Jurati Borg if he wanted.


He looks so pissed it surprises her. "I'm so glad I wasn't in the room for that. And I think we just got our answer. No fucking thank you."


"I'm also relieved. I want his human side to show, not his Borg."


"You and me both. Well, that said, let's go Borg it up with Her Weirdness."


With a muffled laugh, she follows him back to the conference room.


The Borg supporters are reading padds no doubt full of small print regarding full Federation membership. Liam would be right at home.


The Agnes-Queen turns and studies her. "We are relieved you are back. We did not intend to hurt you."


"I accept that."


"But we did."


"Perhaps I hurt myself. Expecting life to go in any way normal."


The Agnes-Queen actually smiles. "Your sarcasm never hides your pain, Seven. But we remember it from before. We remember everything from before." She gestures toward the table and they all sit. "We are unsure what to call the young one who just visited us."


"I don't know why. His name is Jack Crusher. He is Picard's son. Agnes would understand."


"Those things are known to us. But he is already affiliated. His distaste for a new queen was apparent."


"Hey, he had a hell of a time with the old queen," Liam says. "Let him get used to being free of her."


"When the pomp and pageantry is over, we must fill in your gaps of knowledge." The Agnes-Queen actually sighs. "We were not referring to the Queen who staged the attack. He is currently affiliated."


"Oh, fuck me." Liam gets up and walks to the window. "You said Seven wasn't a queen."


"We do not mean he is affiliated with just her. We mean with your collective."


"We're a collective?" Seven can hear the relief in her voice. The idea that it is both she and Liam, and not just her, that is attracting Jack is the one thing that might keep her from running out of this room screaming.


"He is Borg in a way never seen before. He will, by his very nature, attach to something. We believe it is beneficial that it is to the two of you."


"Will he bring anyone else in?" She is suddenly worried about Sidney.


"No. He is the voice, not the hand."


"This just keeps getting weirder." Liam sits back down next to her. "Is that how he knew what to wear to my party?"


"Your question is too specific for us to answer."


"It was also rhetorical."


"Accepted." The Agnes-Queen looks at her. "Do you accept this? Accept him into your collective?"


She doesn't have to hesitate. "Yes. I had Unimatrix Zero when I was a child. He has nothing like that—only a red nightmare that followed him everywhere."


"Your memories of that place are lost," the Agnes-Queen says gently. "You have only what you saw as the version of you that is free. You use that to invent memories of your childhood—and of your first love."


"Wait, Chakotay was in Una-what-now?"


"Not Chakotay. I will explain later, I promise. And she is right. I have no childhood memories other than the brief time with my parents on the Raven."


"You had virtually no childhood, Seven, and what you did have was spent alone—with parents too obsessed by their mission to focus on what you needed. And with the Borg they brought on the ship. And therein lies many of your issues through no fault of your own. We have come to believe that no child should be assimilated. Consent is not possible at that age." She studies her. "We can feel within you the cost of that lost life, the missing touchstones in your make-up."


"Perfect way to put it." She looks down and feels Liam's hand on her leg, not squeezing, just sitting, solid and firm.


"She has me." His voice is the one of a thousand "No's," the one that kept them safe, the one that took no shit, the one that made her feel like nothing bad could ever happen even if he was never going to let her in the way she wanted.


But he loved her. Even then. She believes she will eventually be able to replay the memories and find the moments that love cracked through had she only been in a state to notice.


"Yes, Two of Two. She has you."




Shaw is exhausted when they finally get home. He can hear Seven exhale as she opens the door—as if their apartment is a haven and he heartily concurs. "So, that was...something."


She turns and goes into his arms, holding tightly, murmuring, "I'm not even hungry. I just want to sleep."


"Same." He lets her take his hand and pull him into the bedroom. They undress quickly, and he laughs as Seven waits for him to get in and then crawls over him. "Even tired, you're a pain in the ass."


"It's a gift." She cuddles in next to him and sighs as he kisses her forehead. "That really was a lot to take in."


"Thank God the negotiations are just a formality."


"Yes." She rolls to her stomach and studies him.


"I want to know about the Una-place."


"I know you do. So, I had a lover before Chakotay. But...not really." She swallows hard, her expression changes to something he can't read. "There was a place that some Borg could go to while they were regenerating. They could be as they were before being assimilated, present as human or Klingon or whatever. It was called Unimatrix Zero. It was like a lucid dream if the dream were always the same place with the same people, I guess. But once the regeneration cycle was over, the place and any memories of it were out of reach."


"But you remember it?"


"I didn't. I was freed when I was awake so it was lost. But drones from Unamatrix Zero made contact with me when I was regenerating on Voyager a few years after being freed." She sees his confusion and says, "It took a long time before I slept in a bed."


"I remember you saying that. I guess...I guess I thought you meant before you were free, not after too."


She nods. "Since I was no longer under the Queen's control, I could remember the place and the contact once I woke up. But what I remembered was how it looked to me as an outsider. I never remembered what it was like to have been there as a Borg. Do you understand the difference?"


He thinks about it. "Like visiting a holodeck recreation of a place you've visited but can't remember."


"Yes. There was a man, I surmised by his behavior that we had been lovers. But I couldn't remember that love. In the end, Unimatrix Zero was destroyed, and I saw how brave he was. I reacted to him, kissed him, but that wasn't love—or not the love I once felt for him. It was reaction to his love. I felt something for him but it wasn't what we had known when I was fully there."


He thinks about that—does it make what he said to Chakotay about her emotional age any less valid? He doesn't think so. "And anything you did with him, before you were freed of the collective, was in the dream state?"


"Yes. Real but not. And mine but not. I saw how much I meant to him. But I have no idea what he really meant to the me who was that drone. I would never have remembered that place if they hadn't found a way to contact me."


"Did you ever think of trying to find him?"


"He was very far away. There was no way we would ever see each other again."


"What if you did? Would you want him?"


"Over you?" She touches his face gently. "Not a chance."


"Good answer."


"But my point about Jack was that I went to Unamatrix Zero even when I was a child. I grew up there. I had, I assume, birthdays there and friends. But I can't remember any of them now. So if I had moments of happiness, they are lost to me."


"Probably the same for Jack. Growing up alone. On the run. Only with a dreamworld that in his case haunted him and he could remember."




"I love how you want to take care of him."


"I love how you do too."


"Do you think we would if we weren't...whatever we are. Borg-adjacent?"


She laughs. "Yes, I think we would. We're both good people." She runs her fingers over his lips. "You especially."


"No you." He kisses her fingers. "How tired are you, queen of my collective?" He frowns. "Or is it our collective?"


"I think I might sleep better if you were to make love to me."


"Yeah?" He pushes her to her back and nuzzles down her neck to her breasts. "You think so, huh?"


"Yes, I do." She reaches for him, grasping so firmly it makes him moan. "Inside me now."


"Never let it be said I don't give you what you want." He slips into her. "Slow? Fast?"


She wraps her legs around him tightly and says, "Close your eyes. Lie perfectly still."


"That's not fair."


"Shhh. I just want to feel what we are for a moment."


He gives her that, but then groans when she bears down on him, when she thrusts up and murmurs, "Slow. Really slow."


So he goes as slowly as he can, not looking away from her, knowing she wants him—all of him—and every now and then she tells him to stop and he moans again but does as she says.


She reaches between them, begins to touch herself as she says, "Go as fast as you want to. As hard as you want." But she doesn't look away, so he does what she says, takes her as she comes, as she closes her eyes to ride it out but then is back with him, smiling in an almost feral way.


She has never looked more beautiful to him.


He moves her legs up higher, going harder and her smile only gets sexier and then he's gone, calling her name, collapsing on top of her.


She kisses him tenderly and he rolls to his back, pulling her with him, rubbing her back with the feather-light touches she loves.


He pushes her hair out of her eyes. "I would give everything I have to stay right here with you. Everything I am."


"Aren't you afraid of this, though? Us, whatever we are. Even a little?"


"The only thing I'm afraid of, Seven, is losing you." He pulls her in tight, loving the feel of her stretched atop the length of him. "That's the only fucking thing that truly terrifies me anymore."




The negotiations are over, the announcement and ceremony and reception afterwards done. Seven follows Liam and the Agnes-Queen back to the conference room.


The other Borg beam back to their transport but the Agnes-Queen sits at the table and studies them.


Liam sits across from her but Seven feels an almost manic energy filling her. The way the Agnes-Queen is looking at them bothers her in a fundamental way.


"Sit," the Agnes-Queen finally says.


"Why? We're done, aren't we?"


"We understand your hostility, Seven, but there is still something we need to speak of. We owe it to you for your service."


"Haven't you shared enough truths with us?"


"Perhaps. And we can see you are weary of them. But what if we told you this one could kill you if you don't know. Could kill Two of Two? Would you wish to know then?"


She sits.


The Agnes-Queen looks at Liam. "You remember when we said there is a need for physical closeness in those we assimilated in our first year?"


He nods.


"You did not fully grasp our meaning." She looks at Seven. "Do you?"


"We are physically close. I am not sure we could be closer."


"You are answering in a metaphysical sense—an emotional sense. Use the brain we know you have. Physical in the true sense."


Physical proximity. Co-located? "That is not a Borg trait. Drones operate away from others." Not often, as the Queen generally sends out units rather than single drones, but they can.


"As we were telling Two of Two after you stormed out, our skill in assimilating was affected by the emotional neediness we experienced during the time immediately after we joined. We imparted that neediness in a specific way to those we assimilated. However, once the potential of any bond was reached, the need to be physically together diminished and eventually disappeared. But for a time, those we assimilated had to stay close."


"And if they did not, they died?"


"Not at first. A minor distance caused irritability, restlessness, then depression."


"Would you consider the distance from Earth to Luna minor?"


"We would."


The seminar, her irritation with being there.


She looks at Liam and can tell he is not far behind her. "I was in a piss-poor mood until we got to fishing."


The Agnes-Queen nods. "You understand then."


"Understand? I'm leaving in less than a year. On a ship. As its captain. Liam is staying here."






"How long?" Liam asks. "How long before they were okay to be apart?"


"It took between three and five years for bonds to reach full potential."


"And if I were to stay here and she got too far away?"


"You would both die. Not immediately. It would be painful. Medical intervention would fail." She looks down. "We found this out before we understood the nature of the bonds created. We left some individuals behind to help a society; we still feel their deaths."


Seven sits so still she feels frozen. She can't hear a thing from Liam.


Finally she says, "We can't be separated the way we plan?"


"Not and live." The Agnes-Queen stands up. "We know this is not welcome news. We also know there are ways around this."


"Not good ones."


"We know that too. We are sorry for a mistake from four hundred years ago."


"Or only a few years. Depending on your perspective."


"Yes. Depending on your perspective. We wish you both well. There is always a home with us, if you ever need it." She closes her eyes and a transporter takes her, leaving a speechless Seven and Liam behind.






Shaw turns to her, "Let's get out of here."


"We need to talk to Janeway."


"I agree but not yet. We need to figure this out before we take it to her."


He can tell she doesn't agree, that her first instinct is to take this back to the woman who rescued her from the Borg the first time.


But that woman is not just her friend or surrogate mom or whatever the fuck she is to Seven. She is one of the highest ranking admirals in Starfleet, she's in charge of their destiny, and if they come in panicking with some half-assed solution, she won't like it and they will lose everything.


She will expect them to have at least considered all their options.


"We have nothing on our calendars today or tomorrow. Let's get the fuck out of San Francisco and talk about this." He pulls her in close because he can see how shaken she is, hugs her and is relieved when she hugs him back—tightly but not desperately so. She's all right. "Do you want to get lost in a crowd or get away from it all?"


"Lost in a crowd."


He smiles and kisses her gently. "I knew that." It was the Borg in her. Even if she would deny it vehemently if he said it.


They walk quickly, and he knows neither of them is eager to be stopped, to be made to turn back and do some other thing when they need to figure this out—or at least get their options on the table.


He takes her hand once they are out of the building, leading her to the transporter hub at the edge of campus, bypassing the line and saying, "Rome. Spanish steps hub."


And just like that they are in Rome, still in uniform, and he asks, "Are you hungry?"


"Yes and I want a drink. Something other than wine."


"Not a problem. Specifics?" He loves their short hand, similar to the way they text.


"You order."


He leads her to a cafe near the steps and since it's late at night here and the dinner rush is over, they get a table without waiting.


A server comes over and Shaw orders them both Negronis and whatever meal is easy for the chef to make at this hour.


When the server leaves, she grins at him.




"Most people would just ask for the menu and order what they want. You always think of others."


"I was one of those people. I worked in a restaurant while I was going to school."


"You can cook?"


"I didn't say that. But I can chop like nobody's business."


She laughs. "That explains the knives." Her smile lacks the tightness of the conference room, is more the one he sees every day. When the server comes back with their drinks, she says, "Thank you," with a lightness he loves.


Once they're alone, he says, "To us—and also what the fucking hell?" He holds out his glass and she clinks hers gently against it. "Fuck, Seven."


"Yes. Well put." She drinks and nods her approval of his cocktail choice. "The most simple resolution would be for you to take the center seat back."


"No. I'm not Kirk. I don't need to repeat my glory days over and over. And honestly, even if I was, that center seat isn't what I'd want to repeat." He sighs. "So many people wait for those kind of assignments. To have someone circle back in and throw everyone back: you, Raffi, whoever is on your beta and gamma shift leadership team. No." He likes that her first instinct is trying to keep them on the ship, though, and not immediately offering to turn down the seat and find an Earth assignment.


Which he thinks they both know is what Command will make them do once they find out if they don't find another option. For anyone else, he might do that, might let them put their career on hold, use the time to cement the relationship. But not for Seven, not after everything she's gone through—including from him—to get where she is. She needs to be on that ship. Full stop.


"So would the same rationale apply to becoming chief engineer?"


"That's a can of worms. First for the reason I just stated but also it comes with the possibility of a downgrade in rank. You never want to go backwards unless it's at the behest of the brass. And even then, it pretty much sucks."


"They'd demote you?"


"Probably. Chief engineer is not a flag position."


"Okay. Then what about as an accompanying spouse?"


He grins at her. "You want to get married—just so we can beat this problem? It's sweet of you, and I'm not saying I don't want to marry you eventually, but we've been together a very short time. Also, tandem assignments are not guaranteed especially when the spouse runs the ship."


"You know too much." She empties her glass and waves the waiter over. "Another. And for him."


He doesn't argue. He can see he might have hurt her with the comment about marriage. "Seven, has it occurred to you that according to Jurati rules, we're already married?"


She meets his eyes. "We discussed this. I don't want you with my because of something other than choice." She sighs. "Which is exactly what we're doing, coming up with all these options."


"Trying to stay collocated to avoid dying is a far cry from being forced to love each other. They are two different states. If we weren't already in love, we could serve next to each other and not be involved. The same way you are with Raffi."


"So you don't feel trapped?"


"I feel like the Queen painted us into a corner. But I'm super glad I'm in the corner with you. In fact, there is no one but you from now on when it comes to corner habitation."


She laughs. "I love how you look at things."


The server comes back with a tray loaded with little plates. "Something of everything."


"Perfect," Seven says. "Options are our things tonight."


The server can't take his eyes off her. Seven might think it's because of her implants, but Shaw knows it's because the man is seeing what he does: a gorgeous woman with a generous and loving spirit. He takes an extra long time setting the plates out and telling them—her, really—what everything is.


Shaw is laughing by the time he leaves. "There you go, bewitching another innocent."


"Right." She leans back and says, "This was a good idea."


"I know. We need distance."


She nods. "And perspective. Eventually, we'll be free to take positions away from each other if we want that. This isn't the end of the world."


He doesn't want to say it, but he has to, "It could be for being captain of a ship. Of that kind of ship."


"I know." She begins to dish herself up some food. "But I don't want you to die. And if you can't be on the ship with me, then I need to be on Earth with you. It's that simple for me, Liam."


He dishes some food up too and for a while they eat in a companionable silence, then he leans in. "Tell me everything you know about what motivates the Borg Queen as you knew this one and Agnes Jurati."


She starts to laugh. "You're going to mind-fuck the Agnes-Queen the way you did me? Withholding my name, your presence even?"


"Some of that physical absence was because I wanted to pull you off your chair and into my lap and kiss you."


She laughs. "Okay but that was not the motivation for your dinner of disrespect to Picard and Riker. The way you hit them wherever it hurt most. And I've seen you do it to others—although in most of those cases I also felt they deserved it. You're good at that: finding weaknesses and exploiting them."


"I am good at that. But in this case, I like to think of it more as providing incentive for the queen to help fix what she fucked up in the first place. I want her on our side. So give me the inside scoop."


"Okay, a regular Borg Queen is relentless. She is the equivalent of any hive-minded Queen. The others in the hive exist to serve her. She can be kind, but it's a distant sort of kindness. She can be cruel, and it can be a very personal cruelty. For the most part, she only makes deals if there's something significant in there for her."


"Okay. And the Queen you met, from the alternate timeline?"


"She'd lost. And not in the way of the one we just fought, who was actively working on a way to get back what she'd lost. This one had seen every Borg but her killed. She was awaiting execution when we stole her. She was..."




"Yes. But the second she saw an opportunity, she was ready to act on it."


"Do you think it's safe to say she would have done anything to ensure her own survival?"


She nods.


"But she saved you. She changed her M.O. Agnes Jurati was that strong an influence?" He dishes up more food. "This is really delicious. We need to remember this place."


"Agreed." She holds her plate out so he can get her more food too. "It's difficult to sum up Agnes."




"Such a dichotomy. She was a brilliant scientist. She did so much on the ship and I don't think she ever stopped to think how out of the realm of her own professional experience it was. And she did it well. And she often did it with joy." She smiles, and he can tell she truly cared for Agnes.


"But she was so broken. I'm not sure it started with our missions, when Picard first found her. She had her life's work stopped because of outside forces."


He smiles.


"You can use that?"




"She became more erratic with us. The pressure—the outside forces acting on her."


"Like what?"


"There was a Romulan pretending to be Vulcan, She melded with her and forced her to do things, to keep things from Picard. She had no..." She looks at him.


"She had no free will?"


She nods, a smile growing.


"Good. Keep going."


"She felt herself incapable of forming lasting romantic relationships. She often suffered from almost panic attacks—but they were waves of loneliness. I think...I think that was the core of what infected the Queen, what made her even listen to Agnes when it came to saving me, to teaming up rather than the Queen overriding Agnes. Their core loneliness called to each other."


"But Agnes was the one who argued for free will?"


"For a new way. Of cooperation rather than force, of choice rather than assimilation. Of a variety of levels of affiliation—we are proof of that."


"If you had to sum up her primary drivers in three words?"


"Unity, free will, love."


"That's four words."


She laughs. "Fuck you, Liam." She reaches across the table and he reaches back, their hands holding softly. "You're a terrible influence on my language, but not on me. I feel...I feel calm. I trust you to do your best for us. But if you can't, I will take an Earth assignment and we'll get our cats, and I'll get to know your family, and if there's a ship in my future, fine. If not, also fine."


He can tell she's serious.


"Does it bother you that my first instinct when it's the Borg is to..." She looks down. "Panic?"


"Has it always been?"


"No. I once went back to them voluntarily. I thought it was the right thing to do. But then I found out the Queen was going to use me as her way to figure out humanity—to devour it. To hurt the people I had grown to consider family. Janeway rescued me, but I also actively resisted the Queen. That was the last time I felt like they were my true home. And my first time meeting the Queen. After that...yes, there was panic."


"I think that makes perfect sense. As a drone, you knew your purpose. You didn't have to make the decisions that I can only imagine were really difficult when you were first free. Things those who've never been part of the Borg might consider mundane—even stupidly simple—would have been beyond you."


"Yes. I often felt inadequate. I had never felt that as a Borg."


"But then you met her. She'd been just a voice in your head?"


"Soothing. Our mother." She laughs. "Our psychotic mother, as it turned out."


"I think you're exceptional for having not just survived, but thrived."


"Thank you."


"And if I haven't said it today, I love you more than anything."


"I feel the same."


"I'm going to have to mull this over. You trust me? You feel comfortable keeping this just between us until I'm done trying to fix this?"


"I do."


"Would you rather I wasn't jumping in to fix it? Would you rather I let you handle it?"


She thinks about the question. He loves that about her. Finally she shakes her head. "No. I think you'll view this like an engine that's giving you issues. You tend to take a systemic view but can also work the details. If there's a way, you'll find it for us. I truly believe that."


He's already feeling the start of a plan forming. "It may be a way that scares you. If I decide that it should be both of us there when I mind-fuck—as you so colorfully put it—the queen, then you'll have to react naturally but at your core, you'll have to trust me. This could get dark."


She swallows hard but she nods. "I recently told Janeway I would have followed her into hell. I'd follow you even farther."



Continue to Part 4