Actions

Work Header

May We Meet Again

Chapter Text

Starship Vanguard , Orbit above Betazed

“Nurse Beauchamp?”

 “Ready, sir.”

Claire Beauchamp adjusted her medical bag for the thousandth time, readying herself for the twisting illusion to come.  Even after spending half her life traveling regularly via transporter, the sensation never quite settled with her. Of course she knew the facts.  She’d grown up hearing and learning them in Starfleet: it was completely safe, simply the quickest mode of getting from one place to the other. Centuries had passed and the statistics were fool-proof: no permanent genetic damage in all the centuries the Federation had used the technology.

Still, she hated it. It was rather like being put through a grater painlessly, your cells mixed into a soup only to be reconstructed at the end, and conscious for the entire thing.  Then you emerged somewhere completely new with no real recollection of the journey. An unpleasant, if painless, sensation, never mind the outrageous buzzing she heard every time. 

Now, as she waited to hear the command to initiate the awful contraption, she glanced one last time around the small room, making a note of her fellow officers.  The first commander, Thomas Baxter, a kind enough man with a sparkling record; the Chief Medical Officer, Dante MacKenzie, whose pompous nature engendered no love in his staff but whose abilities were unquestionable; and a handful of new recruits she’d agreed to help train. 

“Engage,” came the command. 

Claire involuntarily flinched, shutting her eyes tight, as the transporter did its work. Within seconds, her breathing felt grounded again and she opened her eyes slowly.  They were planetside: Betazed. 

Quickly, she clocked Dr. MacKenzie’s location and made her way to his side. He was a gruff man and his fingers tapped roughly against his skull as he scratched his balding head. The older man had approached her about helping train some new officers and she’d accepted, spending the last few weeks doing so. This away mission was the officers’ final step before being integrated into ship operations.  She shifted on her feet, anxious to get this batch of trainees approved. This may be her first training group, but she felt an attachment to them. And she hoped they all passed with flying colors.

Commander Baxter stepped forward. The young officers all straightened up, ready to listen, eager.

“Welcome to your first official away mission,” began Baxter with a smile.  His relaxed shoulders were set with a practicality that came with his position. “Your final task is a routine reconnaissance mission, simply gathering some information and practicing a search patrol.  You may recognize this planet but remember to be mindful and follow mission protocol. Imagine it’s an unknown location. You will be evaluated on your communication, thoroughness, and speed. Just remember: you’ve done plenty of simulations, many more difficult than this, and now you’re at the finish line.  Should you pass this final test, you will be inducted to the crew.” 

He paused and looked to Claire.

“Right,” Claire spoke, taking the hint that it was her turn to instruct.  “In each of your utility belts, you should find a tricorder. You’ve learned how to use one in the Academy, but it is your best friend on away missions.  Read the scans diligently. Your safety and the safety of your crewmates is your priority. Good luck, everyone.” Claire smiled broadly at the nervous new science officer, Mary Hawkins. The poor girl seemed terrified.

“Your time starts now,” Baxter said.   “Nurse Beauchamp, Dr. MacKenzie, and I will be nearby in case of emergency.” 

With that, Claire watched the officers split up in pairs and begin to take notes, scanning the area.  Dr. MacKenzie followed, keeping a watchful eye on one of them, a Bajoran named Scott Banner, who was set to be joining the medical staff.

Once they were out of earshot, Commander Baxter leaned towards Claire, a smile on his face.  “I appreciate your help here. I know the doctor does, too.” 

Claire snorted at this, eyes glued to the readouts on her tricorder. “We both know that man doesn’t know the meaning of the words ‘thank you.’” 

“Well, regardless, I’m glad you’re here—precision-like concentration, and all.”

Claire laughed, briefly looking up from her tricorder. “It’s a blessing and a curse. And you’re welcome.”

Watching from their vantage point, Claire couldn’t help but remember her first away mission when she joined the Vanguard and all the nerves that went along with it. Not so much because of any real danger, but rather because of an ever-present fear of failure. She didn’t have to wonder if these officers were feeling something similar; most officers did.  But as she watched the scientists begin taking samples and the security trainees establishing a perimeter, she couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride rise in her chest.

_____________________________________

“Nurse Beauchamp! Claire!” came a shout.  Claire whipped her head up from the notes she’d been taking to search for the voice. Ensign Hawkins came bounding around a corner, her small, pale face flushed, eyes looking panicked.  Immediately Claire’s system was on high alert; the last hour had passed quickly and routinely. What could possibly have gone wrong this close to the finish line?  

“Ensign? Is everything alright?” Claire asked, already reaching for her kit.

“It’s Dr. MacKenzie.  He…he,” she swallowed.  “He’s hurt!” 

 Commander Baxter materialized beside her from wherever he’d disappeared.  His body was coiled, ready for action. Claire made a mental note to ask him where he’d been later.

“Hurt?” Claire and Baxter exchanged a glance. 

“The Doctor and Ensign Banner went to take some soil samples in a nearby cave, while the rest of us searched for water samples.  We hadn’t gotten far when we heard a shout and…and…the cave had collapsed and…”

“Take me there,” Claire cut her off, slinging her med bag over her shoulder.  

They were in the middle of a fairly flat plain, no danger to be had truly—or so they had thought.  Claire’s mind was racing with possibilities as the trio raced towards the cave. Had they been careless and chosen a fault line for their training mission? Why would a cave on this plain collapse? How badly was the doctor hurt?

She didn’t have to wonder long.  As they turned a corner, it was clear the entrance of the cave had crumbled completely. To Claire’s horror, multiple large boulders blocked any visibility into the cave and the doctor was nowhere to be seen. Ensign Banner sat a few feet away rigidly cradling his arm which hung from a grotesque angle.

Seeing Banner preparing to set his own shoulder, Claire lunged forward to stop him, quickly administering a painkiller. “Not like that! You’ll break your arm. Get to sick bay.  I’ll handle you there." 

“There was a phaser blast before the rocks fell,” Banner finally spoke, his breath coming in ragged shudders. “I didn’t see where it came from—but the doctor’s inside.” 

“A blast from where?” Commander Baxter asked. Claire herself looked at the rock formation, noting scorch marks.  Her mind did not have the capacity to wonder who or what had caused them.

“Doesn’t matter right now. Sick bay, now,” she barked, already searching for a way into the cave.

“Yes, sir,” Banner said, tapping his communicator .  

At his wavering voice, Claire gave his arm a squeeze. “It’ll be alright, Ensign.”  He nodded and, as he dematerialized, she went back to searching the rubble. 

Commander Baxter was barking orders to the trainees, something about taking scanner images of the cave and surrounding area, but Claire didn’t hear much over the sound of her own heartbeat pulsing in her skull.  Scanning with her tricorder, she located the humanoid form of Doctor MacKenzie beneath the rock pile—no pulse. 

“Beauchamp to Vanguard. Two to beam up to sick bay now!

 

San Francisco, Earth

6 years later

An unusual calm had long ago settled on the small bar, the rowdy guests leaving one by one into the busy, late-afternoon streets of San Francisco in search of more upbeat locations. Claire had seen them all depart; she’d been here long enough.  The quaint seaside joint lacked the gadgets and appeal that the younger party-seekers desired. For that, they’d go further inland where holo-images and loud, varied music would be playing no doubt. But she’d stay here among the wooden floorboards, mounted fish trophies, and musty smell of it all. 

Still nursing the same pint from an hour before, her antique wristwatch told her the time was now past 1500 hours.  She heaved a sigh and stretched, relishing the lengthening of sinew and muscle along bone. Her lungs breathed in the sea-salt air. 

“Another one, butterfly?” asked the aging man behind the counter.  His greying whiskers parted in a smile, and his soft features sought her own.  The man’s bright eyes danced just as vividly as the colorful fibres of his knit sweater.  Claire smiled back, grateful for his friendship. An old colleague and of her adventurous Uncle Lamb’s, Dustin Demarcus had acquired this seaside bar as a retirement plan, content to settle for the quiet and solitude of a planet-bound existence.

“I’m afraid not, Dusty.  I report to the ship in an hour.”

“Off again?” he asked, slowly moving a damp towel in figure eights on the surface of the bar.

“Yes.”

“Lamb would be proud.”  At his words, her heart slowed a bit and a calm washed over her.  A silence settled, as they both thought back to the colorful man they’d followed through the stars, before he spoke again. “Don’t stay away too long, Claire .   It’s not good for the soul.” 

“A doctor doesn’t choose when she’s needed,” she quietly reminded him. At his solemn nod, she took another sip of her glass when, silently, a figure appeared beside her taking a seat.  Only slightly dismayed at having to share the bar counter now, she glanced his direction.

“I’ll have a whisky, neat, if ye dinna mind,” came a low, melodic voice next to her.  Scottish , she thought idly.  As she gave the man a half-grin, her eyes were drawn immediately to his. 

Set under a strong—if slanted—brow, his blue eyes swirled in the dim lighting, a mirror of the San Franciscan waves outside, crinkles emphasizing their warm nature like parentheses.

“Drink of my ancestors,” the man whispered conspiratorially, flashing a smile her direction that frankly unsettled her a bit.  Like a perfectly sunny day in between storms. 

Under closer inspection, she found kind features overall, an open face, and a broad smile.  She cleared her throat against the warmth rising to her cheeks, suspecting the pint may be hitting her harder than her heavy-weight antics usually allowed—which was impossible given she was drinking synthehol. 

“You’re Scottish,” she found herself blurting.  Dumb, simple. But effectively all she could work up the courage to say at the moment.  Buck up, Beauchamp, you’re Chief Medical Officer of a Galaxy-class starship.

He chuckled, the sound like a chime through her system. “Aye, lass. Ye kent many Scottish people in your line of work?” he asked, his eyes dropping to the Federation-issue communicator lying forlorn in front of her.

“As a matter of fact, I did—do.  Starfleet medical. Dr. Beauchamp.”  She stuck out her hand.

He looked at it for several long seconds before shaking it firmly, woven jacket swishing with his movement. Contact was electric and, for a moment, she thought he might comment on it.  Instead, he leaned forward placing his elbows on the counter as Dustin placed a whisky glass in front of him.  

“Nice to meet ye, Dr . Beauchamp ,” he emphasized.  “Jamie.”  

“Claire.”

Another smile. 

“Well, Claire , what are ye doing in a bar an hour before reporting to yer ship?”  At her raised eyebrow, he clarified. “I heard ye talking earlier—and there’s about a half a dozen ships currently circling this good planet.”

“Ehm, well, the bars on dry-dock don’t quite cut it. That, and it’s been a long while since I’ve been on Earth.” 

He nodded, his barely-kept ruddy curls just long enough to have a mind of their own. “Och, ye dinna like the pristine, carpeted interiors and the clean white lighting of dry-dock?” 

She found her lips parting in a grin of their own.  “Can’t say that I do. And what about you? I could ask you what you’re doing here at three o’clock in the afternoon.”

“Cannae get whisky up in orbit—or anywhere else, really.” 

“I believe they do have whisky.” 

“None this perfect, Sassenach ,” he answered glibly, shaking his glass.

She blinked and cocked her head. “Sasse-nack?” She liked to think herself familiar with a multitude of languages ranging from Klingon to Romulan to Cardassian, but she’d never heard a word quite like this one. 

He ducked his head, the tips of his ears blushing a bit under her practiced eye.

“It means English-person or outlander, I suppose.  Ancient term.” Then he searched her face genuinely. “Meaning no offense to ye, Claire.” 

“None taken.”  She leaned back in her seat, eyeing him. Something about his air made her simultaneously anxious to know more and content to simply enjoy his company. Ultimately, her curiosity won out. “So, what is it that you do?”

“Some of this. Some of that.  Would ye believe I drink whisky for a living?”

“Not in the slightest,” Claire laughed.  When he didn’t speak again, she crossed her arms.  “Are you going to tell me?”

“No, I dinna think I will.” 

“Fair enough,” she answered with a laugh. 

“Why has it been sae long since you visited Earth?” She felt his knowing eyes peer past any pretense she’d put up over the course of their conversation and she was caught off-guard by his quick recall—and deflection. 

“Well, no connections, no family to speak of.  And a perfectly good one out there,” she answered, gesturing to the sky. 

“I’m sorry.”  The sincerity in his voice hit her hard in the chest, and she was forced to swallow a flash of sorrow. 

“Don’t be,” she answered, smiling and brushing a curl back into place behind an ear. “My crew is my family.”

“Glad to hear it, lass.” Again, the sincerity in his dulcet tones set her at ease even as tears, long forgotten and not oft shed, began to form.

A comfortable silence lapsed between them as she finished her pint of old-fashioned Guinness, hiding her own smile and mentally preparing herself to leave the comfort and newfound intrigue in this bar.  As the drink settled warmly in her stomach, she gazed at the stranger next to her—well, Jamie—and briefly wondered if they’d ever meet again.

“Well, Jamie, I’m afraid this is where I leave you. I’ve got a date with a transporter.”  She began gathering her duffel bag, coat, and neatly-pressed uniform. Registering how the teal of her uniform lapel seemed to perfectly match Jamie’s eyes, she caught a shade of disappointment flash in his orbs. 

Jamie rose to give her another handshake and she gratefully took it, feeling the warmth envelop her.   “May we meet again, Dr. Beauchamp.” 

“Just so.” 

Turning quickly on her heel, Claire made her way out the front door before throwing a “Au revoir , Dusty!” behind her. 

As the door propelled her out into the busy sidewalk, she took a deep breath.  Each time her assignment drew her away from Earth, a bittersweet feeling took root.  She hadn’t lied to Jamie: she had no family, no connections here. Even so, she felt further and further from the life she should want: a home, a steady schedule, a place to hold her belongings. Who wouldn’t want a permanent shelf for their metaphorical vases?

But as she watched the sun begin to set over the wharf, the smooth clean lines of Starfleet Academy sitting on the horizon, her thoughts wandered yet again to the life awaiting her.  If she hadn’t lied to Jamie about lack of ties here, she also hadn’t lied about her crew being her family. Starfleet had given her that. She may question her path occasionally, but she would always be drawn back to the Vanguard.   Her thoughts briefly danced from memory to memory of her career: her graduation from Academy, that fateful away mission on Betazed which had propelled her to Chief Medical Officer, her first recognition from the Federation during the war...

The last six years had proven to her that she had a purpose aboard the Vanguard and those who needed her. 

Nonetheless, she wondered briefly if the intriguing stranger she’d met tonight could have grown to need her, and she him….

Shaking herself out of her reverie, she marched on towards Starfleet Headquarters and the quick transport journey that awaited her. A new chapter in her life was beginning.  She couldn’t quite pinpoint the feeling, but it wrapped around her like a welcome home.

Chapter Text

Starship Vanguard , Earth Dry-Dock

2381

Chief Medical Officer’s log, Stardate 64923.8.  I’ve begun the task of settling back into my office after reporting to the ship. So far, I’ve backed up and begun reacquainting myself with the crew’s records while Nurse Banner sterilized sick bay. He’s been a huge help this afternoon--his presence has allowed me ample time to review patient files. However, there’s still much I’d like to accomplish before briefing tonight. The Captain called a meeting at 1900 hours, giving me…exactly half an hour…perfect.  We’ve been told almost nothing about our next assignment except that it’s confidential. I’m hoping tonight’s briefing will shed some light on the matter...

A knock on the plexiglass pane of her office drew Claire’s attention. Her face broke into a smile when she saw who was peeking in. 

“Have a nice shore leave, Lady Jane?”

“Joe!” Claire exclaimed, immediately crossing the space to envelop her friend in a tight hug.  “I’ve missed you.”

“I’ve missed you too, Doc.” Joe Abernathy’s face betrayed only joy as he chuckled, gesturing to the files and datapads already laid out on her desk in neat piles. “And that ridiculously pervasive sense of structure. I see you’ve wasted no time in getting sick bay ready for the assignment.” 

Claire simply hummed, stuffing her hands in the teal fabric pockets of her lab coat. “A lot of work to do before briefing. Nurse Banner’s been helping me, but he left about an hour ago to freshen up.”

“Sounds like you could use an extra pair of hands.”  Joe handed her a datapad.

“What’s this?” she asked, curiously.

“Read it,” was all he said. 

She quickly scanned the contents on the screen: an order from Starfleet Medical granting access to the Vanguard’ s medical records, files, and clearance to one Dr. Joe Abernathy. A moment passed before Claire looked up excitedly.

“You’re joining the crew?”

“Yes, ma’am, I am.” His white teeth flashed at her and she enveloped him in another hug.  Claire felt her heart soaring with joy and relief that he would not be reassigned to another ship. “They’ve cleared me to stay on board—at least for this next assignment. Seems Starfleet’s wanting two doctors on board. They’ll reevaluate afterwards, I’ve been told.” 

“What about Gail?”

“She’s on board, as well.” Joe smiled.

“I’m glad, Joe. Truly,” Claire said, giving his arm a squeeze. Joe Abernathy had come aboard the Vanguard a few years after Claire became Chief Medical Officer, but they’d become fast friends. He’d recently passed his exam, gaining full doctoral marks and, until now, his future had been in question. As most Starfleet ships only required one full-time doctor and a handful of nurses, they’d spent many a long night over noodles and synthehol-beer discussing the possibility of his reassignment. Claire was thankful that that had been delayed for at least a while longer.

“Me, too, Lady Jane.” He took a breath. “I say we make our way to the conference room. I have a feeling this meeting may be a long one.”

Gathering up a datapad for note-taking and pinning her communicator to the chest of her uniform, Claire squared her shoulders. “I’m ready.” 


The turbolift ride to the command level and subsequent walk to the conference room had been packed with short anecdotes of shore-leave. Joe had told her stories of he and his wife, Gail: their visit to see her family, a skiing trip in Switzerland, and their plans for a second honeymoon on Risa. They conversed with an ease that comes with familiarity; his presence was a welcome change from Claire’s rather lonesome shore-leave. She’d left her Earth-side apartment only a handful of times to see a show and visit a friend or two, finding the two weeks just enough time to recharge and catch up on her long-neglected reading list, but it had consisted mostly of solitary activities. She’d missed the reliable friendship and company aboard the Vanguard.  

Now, seated in the conference room, Claire sat up straight in her chair as the Captain and Commander entered, taking their seats at the head of the oblong table. They spoke quietly to each other as they readied their notes, so Claire took the opportunity to glance around at the faces of her colleagues and friends, all of them wary and apprehensive, if expectant.  Security Officer T’Sen, an aging Vulcan with a sharp wit, sat across from Claire, her hazel eyes staring darkly at her clasped hands. Though they had many differences, Claire had found a unique kinship with T’Sen, and they often shared quiet breakfasts together before shifts. Chief Engineer Paul Friedman sat beside the stoic Vulcan security officer, pale skin a juxtaposition to the dark vacuum of space in the windows behind him.  He ran a bony hand through his blonde hair, giving Claire a meek smile. Claire had only had a few interactions with Friedman--medical and engineering seldom interacted--but every time they'd run into each other at the mess hall or on the bridge, he'd been very warm. She was convinced, however, the man was the most introverted person she'd ever met. 

A confidential assignment was rare. The unknown buzzed, nagging at the back of Claire’s mind—and clearly her crewmates’ minds, as well. They were on the edge of a precipice, and Claire felt a huge change approaching to alter the crew’s trajectory in a new direction. However, Joe’s solid presence beside her grounded her as they waited.

“Thank you all for being here,” the captain’s lulling, deep voice rumbled into the room. Captain Sirrim was a stout man, short for a Klingon, but his presence and air of command more than made up for his stature. He’d been known to take down many an officer in Parrisses Squares and sparring alike—he thrived on the friendly competition, his Klingon upbringing very much in the forefront of his character. Claire had once tried to unseat him from his undefeated title in the crew’s bat’leth tournaments and failed spectacularly.

“You’ve been very patient,” Commander Thomas Baxter added. 

After their significant silence, T’Sen cocked her head. “Are we expecting anyone else, Captain?”

“Yes, Lieutenant. As soon as our new visitors arrive, all will be explained.” 

“Thank goodness for that,” Friedman quipped.

At that moment, the conference room doors swished open and all heads turned. Claire’s heart jumped at the faces before her. 

A small group of three men and a woman she immediately recognized as the notable Admiral Katherine Janeway  took their seats at the conference table. The admiral’s demeanor was neutral, but Claire could see the way her jaw was set tightly. Two of the men were unknown to Claire, but she knew the third. He was the man from the bar: Jamie.

Her mind reeling with which piece of information to process first, Claire blinked back her surprise at both Jamie’s presence and at his unrevealing expression. Clearly, now was not the time to compare notes, but she couldn’t help the myriad of questions racing through her mind. 

There were fewer questions about Admiral Janeway. Her career in Starfleet was well-known by every cadet going through the Academy, many having taken her courses. Nearly 28 years ago, Janeway’s ship, the USS Voyager , had been lost to the far-removed, unexplored Delta Quadrant. She and her crew, presumed lost to the depths of space, had spent a decade traversing their way back to Earth. On their return, she had quickly risen through the ranks of Starfleet taking up the mantle of Admiral, lecturer, and diplomat. An extremely distinguished character among the ranks and one whom Uncle Lambert (and a teenaged Claire, herself) had met before. 

Now, Janeway spoke.

“Thank you for waiting, Captain Sirrim.” At the captain’s nod, she addressed the rest of the crew. “I’m afraid what we’re about to discuss will not be as simple as I’d like. There are more questions than answers currently, but I chose this crew because I know your records. I know your character. I believe you offer Starfleet its best hope of completing this assignment.”

At Janeway’s signal, Captain Sirrim pressed a button, activating the view-screen at the front of the room. A map appeared, one which Claire recognized as the Romulan Neutral Zone. The graphic enlarged to show a singular planet. 

“Alpha Onias III,” explained Janeway. “A Federation operative is deep undercover, one whom the Vanguard is under confidential orders to recover. The intel that said operative has is essential to our larger mission. It is imperative that no communication about the details of this mission be disclosed. Understood?”

“Understood,” chimed Claire and the crew.    

“Starfleet has been keeping tabs on the activity of a terrorist group, who call themselves the Necesse. They are suspected of various crimes ranging from piracy to murder. Lieutenants Fraser, MacKenzie, and Mhor here are a part of a team who have been investigating the Necesse under my orders. And they have found new intel pointing to this group being more dangerous than previously assumed.”

“New intel?” Commander Baxter queried.

“Four days ago, our operative sent a coded transmission detailing some of the activity of the group. It’s been radio silence since, but that transmission was enough to put the Federation on high-alert. We need the uncompromised confirmation of our operative before proceeding, as it could present an imminent danger to this quadrant. One the Federation is not prepared for and one which I cannot speak of until we know, for certain. It may have already cost us the life of our operative.” Claire felt Janeway’s gaze bore into each of them before she spoke again. “Fraser,” Janeway cued.

Jamie Fraser sat forward. “Six years ago,” he began, “the Necesse were involved in an attack on Betazed: an explosion which cost the life of a Dr. Dante MacKenzie. ” His eyes flicked to Claire’s face.

At his words, her blood ran cold.

“Dr. Beauchamp, you were present that day,” Janeway prompted. 

Unclear what she was getting at, Claire narrowed her eyes and sat forward. “I was.” Already, her mind was pulling forth those panicked memories. It was the nightmare of every young officer to lose their commander, to be thrust into a position for which they didn’t feel ready.

“What do you remember of the events?”

Claire stiffened at the memories. “The information is all in the report, Admiral. My statement, included. Why ask me now?”

“We suspect that the Necesse used the explosion as a diversion,” Jamie broke in.  “That same day, a former Federation officer, Jonathan Wolverton Randall, disappeared from his home on Betazed, and has not been heard from since.” 

“He is suspected of leading this terrorist group,” Janeway finished. Then she met Claire’s eyes. “Dr. Beauchamp. We are merely trying to uncover any details that may help us understand more. Please.”

“I remember it all,” Claire sighed. “Dr. MacKenzie had asked me to assist in the training of a few new officers. That away mission was supposed to be their final test before being inducted into the crew. I was the one who discovered the Doctor’s body, after a cave collapsed. It nearly killed Lieutenant Banner, as well…” her voice trailed off.  “Are—are you saying that collapse was not an accident, or a natural occurrence?”

“Aye,” spoke Fraser lowly, as he watched her. “Did ye notice anything out of place that day?”

Claire furrowed her brow, more than a little concerned. “Lieutenant Banner reported a blast before the collapse, however our science team made some discoveries that ruled out that possibility.” 

The Commander broke in. “Our scientists and those on Betazed confirmed that, given the nature of the rocks, it’s not unusual for a flash of light to accompany natural disasters such as a collapse.”

“The rocks give off light?” piped up Lieutenant Angus Mhor, a seedier fellow than his companions.  His bushy dark brows were knitted together and a smirk sat on his face. “I’ve ne’er heard of such a thing.”

“Not precisely,” answered T’Sen. “The chemical makeup of the sediment formation in question is particularly volatile. In other words: extremely combustible given the right circumstances—and, in many cases, mimics that of a photon blast.”

“And you kent this how?” Lieutenant Rupert MacKenzie spoke. The man’s large stature and stoic face worked together to create a larger-than-life image that would certainly intimidate younger officers. However, a Vulcan such as T’Sen was nonplussed.

“I was a science officer when the incident took place, in charge of analyzing many samples from the scene.” T’Sen’s face reflected more calm than Claire felt, and she was suddenly very grateful for her friend. 

At this, Janeway leaned back in her chair. “Then, it is as we thought: the Necesse know what they’re doing. They’re calculated.”

Under Claire’s practiced eye, she could practically see Jamie’s pulse rate rise as his shoulders stiffened. He was staring at his hands. “Did ye expect any less from a man like Jack Randall?” he growled. 

In the silence following his remark, it was Joe’s turn to sit forward. “Admiral, what exactly does the Federation suspect the group to be planning?”

Janeway shook her head. “As I previously stated, I am not at liberty to say.” Then she gave a softer smile. “If you’re getting at why a second doctor was assigned to the Vanguard , I can tell you we have our reasons.”

Janeway was contemplative for a moment before she fixed Captain Sirrim with her hazel eyes. The years had taken their toll on the admiral, if the photos Claire had seen growing up were any indication. The fiery red hair of her youth was now much lighter, and streaks of white ran through it. Her previously young skin was weathered, and her eyes seemed tired. Yet Claire did not underestimate her sharp intelligence and intuition. Her stature was stouter, but she held herself with the same command as she always had. Watching the Admiral now form her next words carefully, Claire was struck by a sense of awe, a sudden understanding of how a woman such as this had led her crew tirelessly and bravely through the uncharted vastness of the Delta Quadrant—and had made it back to tell the tale.

“Captain, I hereby order your ship to Alpha Onias III to recover our operative and get to the bottom of the Necesse. Find what they want and what their next move is.” She stood, then, and all rose with her. “You have the resources of the Federation behind you, but this is completely off-record.  No one can know.”


The briefing lasted another three hours. The admiral and her team ran through the details of the assignment, made more difficult by the fact that their destination was on the edge of Romulan space, well past the Neutral Zone. By the time details had been set, goals listed out, and a run-down of training and preparation completed, it was nearing 2200.

The plan was to take the Vanguard to the edge of the Neutral Zone, and then dispatch the away team from there via a shuttlecraft outfitted with Federation-prototype cloaking equipment. From there, the away team would make the rest of the journey undetected to Alpha Onias III where they would beam down and rendezvous with the undercover operative in the tunnels below the capital city. The Admiral had brought with her detailed diagrams of the tunnels which they would use during drills in the holodeck.

Claire felt her brain fading fast, the new information and adrenaline of its discovery was taking its toll on her system. Thankfully, things were wrapping up.  

Throughout, Jamie had been by-the-book, efficient in his instructions and questions. Given the away team would require medically accurate Romulan disguises, he’d asked her and Joe many questions about medical procedures and protocol once they rescued the operative, curious about every detail. He had a cunning mind, Claire could tell; he was meticulous and careful, measured. Claire could almost watch the gears turning behind his guarded face as he took in the information the Vanguard officers threw at him. He seemed almost the exact opposite of the bantering, young whisky drinker she’d taken him for just hours ago, and she found herself curious to know how two such opposed dynamics could exist in one person.

As the admiral rose and the briefing came to a close, each officer filed one by one into the hallway. Gathering her datapad, Claire readied herself to dive into the files transferred to the Bridge crew for confidential review. She assumed she’d find what information the Federation had on the Necesse, as well as the reports from the away mission six years ago—hers included. 

“Dr. Beauchamp?” a voice hummed at her side. 

Turning to find the face of Jamie Fraser, Claire blinked. As she studied his features, once more warm and open—a stark contrast to his demeanor in the briefing—she couldn’t help but feel on guard.

“Yes, Lieutenant?” she found herself saying blankly, her voice a bit harsher than she’d intended.

“Ye ken now why I couldn’t be open wi’ ye just yet? Earlier, at the bar?” 

She understood, of course, why he hadn’t been able to reveal his position or assignment at the bar; she just felt extremely vulnerable being the one in the dark. He’d known her history, her record, all of it as soon as she’d given her name.   

But something in her compelled her to hear him out.

“I do,” she sighed. 

“Would ye be willing to meet me for dinner  at Ten Forward? As an apology?”

Chapter Text

The crew mess hall sat on the forward-most point of deck ten—hence its affectionate nickname: Ten Forward. Large windows provided an unencumbered view of the stars while a wide bar and replicators, staffed by one or two crew members at a time, provided any imaginable delicacy. The collection of tables and chairs that filled the rest of the space were often pulled together or rearranged as different groups came and went. It was a place for the crew to commune and unwind.

Claire and Jamie had found a corner table near the windows. Once food had arrived, Claire was preoccupied taking the initial first bites into her lasagna and lentil soup while Jamie cut into his Andorian krill-beast steak. The silence between them wasn’t entirely uncomfortable, so Claire took the extra few moments to relish the flavors assaulting her tongue, grateful for the food after a long, wearisome briefing. Her body was aching and ready for sleep, she could tell, and this starchy sustenance was much needed.

As were the next words Jamie uttered next.

“Dr. Beauchamp, I apologize for the…for keeping you in the dark. I wasna at liberty to divulge much at the time we met.”

“I quite understand, Lieutenant.” Claire took a sip of her spice tea, watching Jamie place his utensils down quickly to clarify. She’d spent the entire trip from the briefing room to Ten Forward reasoning with her frustration, and she’d reached a place where she was not upset anymore. 

“I didna put the pieces together until ye introduced yourself and mentioned being a doctor. But I ken ye couldna have appreciated being kept in the dark—“

She smiled and held up a hand. “You’re right: I don’t appreciate being kept in the dark,” she explained. “ But, I suppose I was just caught off guard. I understand why you couldn’t say anything.”

“I’m glad of it.”

“And I thank you for the gesture,” she said, motioning to the mess hall and their plates of food.

“Aye. Ye were very open with me in the bar. I just wanted to make things right.” He seemed about to say more but thought better of it. 

More silence as they took a few more bites of their dinner. Then, Claire sat back in her chair and crossed her arms. A curiosity buzzed at the base of her skull, like a mosquito begging for answers.

“You want to make things right, hm, Fraser?” Jamie met her gaze, cerulean eyes swirling curiously. His slanted brow was furrowed. “Your turn,” she declared.

He cocked his head. ”My turn?”

“You heard my story, or a bit of it anyways. I want to hear yours.”

Meeting his calculated gaze head-on, she saw the gears turning in his otherwise impassive face. With a suddenness that caught her off guard, his barrier seemed to fall a bit. 

He chuckled. “Canny lass. No wonder Admiral Janeway chose you for this assignment.” 

“Don’t change the subject, Lieutenant .”

“Well, then, what do ye want to know?”

“Where were you born? How old are you? What did you study in the Academy?”

He smiled as he took another messy, hefty bite of his Andorian steak. “Earth. Inverness, Scotland. Too old to be picking at this steak sae poorly. And ethics and command. All things ye can look up in my file, Doctor,” he pointed out with a smirk. 

“Fine. Are you the youngest?”

His eyebrows shot up. Another chuckle, those same wind-chimes through her system, and Claire felt her stomach churn like it had in the bar. “Aye, I suppose. How’d ye ken?”

“Just a guess.” Claire filled her mouth with a chunk of cheesy lasagna, washing it down with a loud slurp from her soup. An exclamation mark for her proud deduction.

The next hour passed by easily, with Jamie sharing a bit more about his rural upbringing on Earth and Claire revealing more of her nomadic one throughout the quadrant. The conversation was comfortable, but soon she felt sleep pulling at the edges of her consciousness, and her eyelids felt like leaden curtains. She yawned. 

“Any more hard-hitting questions for me, Sassenach?”

“Just one,” she declared. She knew it was long past time to turn in for the evening but had one last itching question for now.

“Why did you join Starfleet?” she asked. 

He was pensive for a moment, clearly considering her question; but already she saw the walls building again, a stony expression washing over his face, and her heart fell.  “My family is full of Starfleet officers.”

“Your parents, too?”

“Aye. My father was a commander.”

“Was?”

“He died. In the war.”

Claire opened and closed her mouth many times, searching for something to say. She’d seen in Jamie the carefree whisky-drinker, glimpses of the family man with strong ties to Scotland, and the detail-oriented special ops officer. She hadn’t an explanation for how those three profiles fit together—until now. A wave of sorrow at his revelation crashed over her, and her own memories from the war flooded her system. So many officers had similar stories and had lost loved ones in the war. 

Closing her eyes, she landed on three words. “I’m sorry, Jamie.”    

“It’s a long story, lass.”

“I’d like to hear it sometime. If you’d like.”

“Sometime, perhaps.”

As he’d spoken, his eyes were trained still on hers, but the easy, open moment between them was gone and he seemed far away. Claire suddenly felt very vulnerable and foolish as slight disappointment rose in her cheeks.

She stood quickly. “Well, it’s late, and we have a hard week ahead of us, Lieutenant.”

“Claire.” He spoke her name with a quiet determination, which made her pause. “I’ll no’ lie to ye, or deceive ye again. If we’re to work together, we have to trust each other—I ken that. And I do trust ye, Doctor. I hope ye trust me, as well.” 

“Of course, Lieutenant.” Grabbing her plates, she made to excuse herself but stopped herself when she caught his look of hurt. Softly, she laid a hand on his shoulder and hoped the sincerity in her voice would come through. “Thank you for your company.”

At his nod, Claire Beauchamp, Starfleet M.D., Chief Medical Officer of the starship Vanguard , made her escape from the mess hall.


The next morning had come all too soon. After sleepily dragging herself out of bed, Claire found herself back in sickbay at 0700, prepping for a long day of vitals, measurements, and prosthetic fabrication before beginning physical training on the holodeck with the rest of the team. Having jumped to warp 9 after transporting Admiral Janeway back to Earth the night before, the Vanguard was well underway to the neutral zone. Claire felt the pressure to quickly absorb as much information as possible in preparation for this away mission. 

She looked at the schedule displayed on her holoscreen, taking note of each detail. Joe was set to arrive in sickbay any minute, but she wanted to get a head start. She sat down and began reviewing the files of each of the members of their special ops team: medical history, allergies, blood types. Some time passed before the beep from sickbay’s entrance immediately pulled her out of the files.

“Enter,” she called out. 

“You ready to research some special effects, Lady Jane?” The cheery countenance of her medical companion and friend lifted her spirits a bit, expelling the last bit of drowsiness from the early start.

“Special effects, hm, Joe?” 

“Like in the vintage days of film.” Joe began prepping a station, laying out multiple datapads and pulling up a diagram on the large central view screen. “I already have some ideas.”

While she and Joe nailed down the details of the procedure the team would undergo, Claire’s mind wandered briefly to thoughts of how Jamie, Rupert, Angus, and the Commander’s training was going presently. Training which would last most of the day and evening. Training, which she would be joining tomorrow. 

Time to get to work.

Thankfully, the day wore on without any major hiccups. Claire was able to identify potential problem spots and weaknesses in the procedure. Joe had walked her through the research he’d found and the standard operating procedure Starfleet Medical had developed for the necessary Romulan disguise. Claire had gone in and tweaked any trouble spots. 

The briefing last night had brought up all the pressure and painful memories of her away mission all those years ago—she did not want to fail again. No one else would lose their life on an away mission to which she was assigned--not again. So, she worked; painstakingly reviewing every detail with Joe. 

Soon, it was afternoon; the entire away team was gathered in sickbay, ready to hear what the doctors had in store for them.

Tensions were high, and Claire could see the determination on everyone’s faces. Commander Baxter sat against one of the sickbay beds, arms crossed at his chest, speaking lowly with Jamie. Claire saw Baxter nod and then turn to address Joe.

“Tactical training was a logistical nightmare today.” He rubbed his forehead. “Hopefully, you and Dr. Beauchamp were more successful?”

Stepping forward with a grim smile, Claire pulled up a diagram on the viewscreen. “We were. Seventeen years ago a crew member of the U.S.S. Enterprise-D was successfully disguised as a Romulan undercover for days—the why is not important. But, the classified details of her surgical alteration have been granted to us by the Admiral, giving us an inside look as to how it was done. I have tweaked them to suit our purposes and each of your genetic structures.”

“Dr. Beauchamp is the most skilled surgeon I’ve ever known,” Joe spoke up. “We worked closely for many years, which is exactly why we are the team the Admiral chose to do this surgery. You’re in good hands.”

Claire gave the group a moment to take in the details of the procedure, then spoke. “Any questions?”

“Are there any dangers to this procedure? Any side effects?” It was Rupert MacKenzie that spoke, concern etched into his voice.

Claire shook her head. “The procedure is painless and completely reversible, extremely convincing. Though, it is not without its own weaknesses. Extreme temperatures poorly affect the result.”

“So, just avoid blazing fires and the freezing vacuum of space, eh?” Angus Mhor quipped, ribbing Jamie in the side. Jamie emitted a sort of snort that Claire couldn’t quite decipher, but his eyes hadn’t left the readout of the surgery details.

“More or less,” Claire responded. She didn’t blame their hesitation. Physical alteration was an extreme measure only taken in the most dire or necessary situations. Given the recent volatile relations with the Romulans, Starfleet was taking no chances in endangering the lives of their officers or the informant they were attempting to retrieve. “Now, we will be needing to beta-test the procedure before conducting it officially closer to the Romulan Neutral Zone. Would anyone like to volunteer?”

A moment passed before Jamie spoke up, “I will.” 

“Very well,” Claire nodded. 

“That settles that.” Commander Baxter clapped his hands together and began making his way to the exit.  “Lieutenant Fraser and Dr. Beauchamp will be joining us for more tactical training later today once the tests are complete.”

With that, the group funneled out into the hallway. Claire, Joe, and Jamie were left alone with the soft beeping of the equipment around them.

“I’ll gather the tools, and we’ll begin,” Joe said. Quickly, he began organizing the different hydrospaners, electronic scalpels, and tricorders and switched on the round machine hovering over one of the sickbay beds. It emitted a sharp, high pitched buzz that slowly dimmed into white noise. Its photon emitters glowed a bright neon yellow, and it looked rather like a furnace. If Claire was honest with herself, despite her medical knowledge of its workings and purpose, she knew that it was not a comforting sight.

Turning to face Jamie, Claire tried to read his face. He was more or less stoic, but one eyebrow was raised ever so slightly above the other, and his jaw was set. He was skeptical. 

Placing a hand on his shoulder, she said softly, “Last night, you said you trusted me, Lieutenant.”  

Jamie blinked at her owlishly, taking in her words. She watched his eyes unwaveringly meet hers. Then, he said, “Aye, I do.”

With that, Jamie hopped up on the bed and maneuvered his body so that his head was directly under the contraption. His large form dwarfed the standard-sized cot in an almost humorous way, Claire thought. Shutting his eyes tightly, he stilled himself, but Claire couldn’t help noticing the way his fingers drummed lightly on the cushion beneath him, beating out a quick tattoo. 

Stepping up to join Joe at the foot of the bed, she picked up her hydrospanner, took one last look at the specs and gave a nod to Joe. “Geronimo,” she muttered. 

Chapter Text

“Captain to Doctor Beauchamp. We are T-minus twenty hours from the Romulan Neutral Zone.”

 “Understood.” Claire ran a sweaty hand across her forehead as she exited the holodeck. 

The next four days had passed much quicker than Claire had hoped. Between her early mornings tweaking and fine-tuning the surgical procedure with Lieutenant Fraser, and her afternoons spent physically punishing her sleep-deprived body, Claire felt like she was floating above herself. Her mind was just as worn as her body, with thoughts untethered a mile above the rest of her—a sensation she’d only experienced once during exam week in Academy. Yet the hardest, most crucial part of the mission was still to come: their trek through the Neutral Zone and consequently their arrival on Alpha Onias III.

One bright spot had existed in her week: the time she’d gotten to spend with Jamie. He’d become a welcome sight in the early morning hours, a quiet companion while she worked, and his good-natured suffering an encouragement as the away team pushed their bodies to their limits during the physical exercises and phaser drills. Claire never thought she’d come to dread time spent on the holodeck, but the recreation of the Alpha Onias III undercity tunnels was enough to make her wary. She breathed much easier stepping out of those dark, ominous tunnels into the well-lit, stark, clean contrast of the Vanguard decks. 

Today had been no exception. It was the last day of training; tomorrow, the away mission began and the stakes were high.

Her training suit damp with sweat, Claire brushed her wild curls back. Though she’d pinned them into a tight bun, the rigorous exercise had freed them of their constraints. Huffing both in exhaustion and frustration, Claire leaned against a wall to catch her breath a bit, knowing she was beet-red—she wasn’t exactly in the best shape of her life.

The rest of the group followed suit, exiting the holodeck breathing hard. Endorphins and exercise were typically a good thing, but just now she could see the group was feeling the pressure of the next day.

“Get some food then get some rest, team,” Commander Baxter puffed out between breaths. “We meet at sick-bay early tomorrow so the doctors can outfit us with our disguises. By the afternoon, we will reach the Neutral Zone—you’ll need to be as well-rested as possible.”

The group voiced soft grunts of acknowledgment and began to disperse to their respective quarters. She’d probably follow suit but, for now, she needed to stand still.

“Sassenach, ye alright?"

She smiled at the slightly concerned face of Jamie Fraser. He looked positively peachy, drenched in sweat but in good-enough spirits. She thought back to the ease with which he’d completed all the trials and exercises. He was clearly in the best shape of the entire team. “Yes; just needed a moment to collect myself. I feel like I jumped into the deep end of a swimming pool.”

He laughed. “Ye look it, too.”

“Thanks,” Claire deadpanned.

“I’ve seen water buffalo less soaked than ye.” The twinkle in his eye made her smile.

“Ha, ha.”

Leaning up against the bulkhead next to her, he added, “Chief once jumped in the lake and came out in better condition.”

“Chief?” Claire raised an eyebrow.

“The family cat.”

“You grew up with a pet cat named Chief?” Claire found herself laughing at the idea of a domestic cat answering to such an austere, commanding name.

“Aye. And horses. Lallybroch was home to a long line of Duke’s and Chief’s, ken."

Her mind raced past the adorable idea of generations of horses all named Duke to the unfamiliar word he’d mentioned. “Lallybroch? Is that the name of your home?”

Jamie’s cerulean eyes glazed over a bit just then. “Aye, ‘tis.” Claire detected a tinge of sorrow in his voice, but he said no more. Instead, he offered his hand. “Come on, Sassenach. Let’s get some sustenance to stave off the sore muscles. I used to ride a bit, so I ken the perfect cure.”

She took his hand gratefully and hoisted herself up. Or, rather, Jamie lifted her swiftly. As he led the way to the turbolift, she felt her stomach flutter a bit at the ease with which he’d just picked her up off the floor. As she watched him walk ahead of her, she thought that if she were a horse, she’d let him ride her anywhere, too. 

She shook her head and blushed a bit. Christ, Beauchamp, move along.  

Forcing her jelly-like muscles to move, she caught up with Jamie, who was already holding the lift for her, and stepped in.


Ten Forward was packed, livened by the shouts and cheers of a group celebrating a birthday. Claire recognized some of the officers joining in a raucous round of “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow,” but she and Jamie had decided to leave them to their festivities.

Soon they’d found a quiet table and began a feast of carbs and protein, loading up for the stress of the coming days. They’d chatted generally about their concerns and the away mission, but she was soon back to questioning Jamie about his home, and in return, he seemed captivated by her wilder childhood. They were incapable of silence tonight, and the conversation ranged from his school days as a young child to her life more recently on the Vanguard . Without realizing, almost two hours had passed in their shared company. Claire felt a heavy warmth in her bones, akin to the soothing feeling alcoholic wine brings. 

Just now, he was engaged in telling an animated recounting of his first time riding a horse without supervision. 

“Lallybroch was a working farm. Gardens, pastures, stables… My Da, being a fairly organized, disciplined man, had ordered us to stay away from the stables unsupervised. But one night, I’d snuck into the barn at midnight, hoping for a wee keek of the stallion my father had just bought. It was a gorgeous devil: coat black as coal with flashes of iron and steel in its bones. Donas was his name. The only horse not named Duke, to my memory.” Jamie laughed, bringing a gust of fresh sea breeze, or endorphins, or wind chimes into the room. “I remember how quiet that night was. The moon was full, but the world was dead silent. Being no more than a lad of eleven myself, I thought I was invincible.”

“Don’t we all at that age?” Claire laughed.

“Aye,” Jamie laughed again. Claire noted how his disposition danced; a light existed in his eyes as he spoke about his home and his childhood. 

“Weel, without so much as a second thought, I unlatched the stall door, looped a rope around ol’ Donas’ neck, and swung myself onto his back! The next minute or two was a blur: he thundered so fast I thought my ears would rattle clear off my heid.”

The boy and his horse had made a mad dash towards the open field, when Donas had turned suddenly towards a nearby pond. The horse had come to an abrupt halt, catapulting Jamie into the freezing water.  

“I couldn’t swim well, mind ye, and it was pitch black. So, I thought that was it. I kent I was doomed—must ha’ been in that water nearing two minutes before strong hands pulled me up and out. It was my da.”

“Your father just happened to be out by the pond that night?” 

Claire caught the small smile that washed over Jamie as he took a bite of his spaghetti dish. “No,” he said. Leaning forward, his mouth curled around his words as his accent thickened. “He’d followed me from the house and made a mad dash after Donas and me. I suppose he figured I’d be up tae something.”

“Smart man.”

Jamie made a noise in the back of his throat that Claire didn’t quite think was a laugh—somewhere in the realm of a humorous scoff. “We’d all had a hard year, and he was keeping a close eye on us both--my sister, Jenny, and I.” Then he continued, “He rushed me back to the house where she was waiting. They changed me into fresh clothes and tucked me into the warmest room in the house.”

Claire tried to picture the image, but found it difficult. The man before her had surely never been as small and vulnerable as a sopping wet, freezing boy—and try as she might, her mind could conjure no images of a warm fireplace, heavy sheets, or homey spectacle like a brother, sister, and father. She’d been loved, no doubt, and safe too, but ‘home’ had never carried any particular weight with her. Similarly, being an only child, she had no concept of siblingship beyond the academic.  

“Was that the end of it?”

“Och, no. The next morning, when I woke up refreshed and warm as could be, my father dragged me outside and made me reap the entire garden by hand. He told me I had tae be more careful as someday it would be only Jenny and me. I never did such a clot-heided thing again—at least no’ until now.”

Claire gave a soft laugh, knowing exactly the sentiment he meant. As Claire took a long swig of her water, she felt a sense of dread settle on her which she was having trouble shaking. This entire week had felt like a blind race, hurtling forward into unknown territory and hoping for the best. She knew better; the Federation and everyone assigned to this mission carried with them essential information and the knowledge of what would happen if they failed. They knew what was at stake, but she couldn’t help but feel a looming sense of helplessness. 

She felt Jamie’s eyes on her as he asked his next question. “What about ye? Where did ye grow up?”

“All over, really. My uncle was a xenoarcheologist, so I got to see the quadrant first-hand.”

“A xenoarcheologist?”

Claire hummed, as she took a few more bites of her meal. “He loved learning about species on different planets and he had a knack for people—he’d never met a stranger,” she said, smiling fondly at the memory. “In fact, one of his best friends was Romulan. Mekith. It was a bizarre friendship; they were rivals, of a sort, but they became very close. I grew up with two uncles, more or less.”

Claire proceeded to tell Jamie of her favorite memories. Surfing the sulfur waters of Andorian and encountering a fierce storm which had resulted in a humorous lack of personal space and hunkering down in a nearby cave. Getting trapped in a quarantine on Risa after an outbreak of Earth measles and having to spend a week in a resort suite, living on bland food and the entertainment of puzzles. Uncle Lamb discovering a millennium-old hieroglyphic language system on the planet of Ferenginar and Claire’s enormous pride in his accomplishment. 

Jamie listened intently, eating up every detail as she spoke, patiently picking at his plate. He enthusiastically asked questions about the worlds he hadn’t visited, eyes swirling with the tales she told him. 

“Lamb was happiest when he was on a dig or meeting new people from all over the Alpha Quadrant,” Claire recalled. “I learned so much from him—and Mekith. They’re actually why I joined Starfleet.” A sudden somberness weighed her down.  

Claire’s mind brought forth images she’d thought she’d long suppressed. Their temporary apartment on Romulus, visiting as Federation subsidiaries while Mekith attended a family wedding. Walking arm in arm with Mekith through the Romulan Council gardens with the heat of the day dimmed by the green overhang above them. Her sadness at leaving for Earth where Mekith would meet them weeks later. Then her uncle’s red-rimmed eyes as they’d been told of Mekith’s demise, mistakenly shot down in the Neutral Zone by his own people, the result of a miscommunication between the Romulan government and the Federation. The empty messages and condolences from the Federation. 

A hot bitterness rose in her throat, and she forced herself to swallow back tears. The Federation did not have her complete trust—and the Romulan government, even less. Even with all the intel the Admiral had provided, all the knowledge the Federation thought they had, things might still go horribly wrong. 

“Doctor– Claire,” Jamie whispered, the warm tones of his voice drawing her out of her reverie. “Where’d ye go, lass?”

“Just old memories.” She swiped at the tears building. 

“We all have those ghosts.”  

“Yes.” With a look at the man across from her, she nodded, remembering his words from earlier in the week. He’d lost people, too.

“Do you–” she began, then cut herself off. His eyes were on her, though, rapt and attentive. She found herself voicing a question she probably shouldn’t, especially to the task-team leader himself, “Do you think we can actually do this?”

A moment passed before he sat back in his chair, eyes still watching her. But his brow furrowed a bit. “What do ye mean?”

Claire sighed. “I’m not sure. Perhaps I just mean– I feel as if we’re rushing recklessly into… I don’t know, something that’s larger than we think. Something– we may not succeed in stopping,” she finally got out and released a heavy sigh. Just voicing this fear let her breathe a bit easier. She hadn’t realized how much she’d needed to say those words to someone.

When Jamie didn’t respond immediately, she felt the urge to suddenly take it back. “Do you not have the same doubts?” 

Jamie nodded solemnly, his eyes gazing off into the view outside the windows and his jaw set hard, making his skin stretch taut along his mandible. “Aye, I do. God knows the Federation has been wrong before.” She thought she detected a touch of the same bitterness that clouded her senses. “But this is something we must do—we simply canna fail.”

Claire took a deep breath, searching his face earnestly. Then, she took the leap she’d been wanting to take since they began training. “You’ve told me why you joined Starfleet. Why did you join this task force?”

As his eyes raised to meet hers, a strange energy crackled along her spine. He regarded her for what felt like an eternity. “My father died in the war,” he finally answered.

“I remembered that.”

“We were both stationed under Jonathan Randall.” Claire watched as Jamie rolled his shoulders back, his fingers tapping the utensils in his hand. “He’s responsible for my father’s death—among other things.”

Claire bit her tongue, not sure what to say. Jamie continued. 

“So, when the Admiral approached me to join and told me about what she’d learned, I couldna say no. A man like Randall willna stop until he gets what he wants. We will catch him.”

Jamie stood, reaching a hand to help her out of her seat, her sore muscles screaming in protest. 

“That’s enough talk tonight, Sassenach. Ye need to be fresh for tomorrow. After all, those disguises willnae make themselves.” He smirked.

“If only,” Claire laughed. They exited Ten Forward with the lively sounds of the birthday party still echoing. As they readied to part ways to their separate quarters, Claire suddenly stopped and touched his arm, noticing his broad shoulders tightening a bit at the contact. “Thank you for sharing, Jamie. It helped. A reminder of why we’re doing this in the first place.”

“Aye,” was all he said, his entire body tense, even if the look on his face was a soft, unreadable one. “Goodnight, Claire.” 

He turned to leave, and she couldn’t help but feel a sadness as his presence rounded the corner out of sight. Taking a deep breath, Claire forced her legs to move, looking forward to the softness of her bed and a good night’s sleep. She still dreaded the coming days, but perhaps Jamie was right. They would succeed. Her spirits were already higher after their discussion.

Chapter Text

The day-long shuttle ride from the drop-off point through the Neutral Zone passed uneventfully. The cramped confines of the shuttle had tempered their anxiety a bit, each person making a conscious effort to give ample space as they moved around. Plans were reviewed as one final measure of preparedness. Meals were shared in companionship, as Angus and Rupert told stories from their Academy days with Jamie. A raucous round of laughter had served to lift their spirits as they continued on course to Alpha Onias III.  

Claire had found herself gravitating towards Jamie, whether during meals or downtime. His presence had a calming effect on her, and she was grateful for his friendship during this mission. However, she’d made a conscious effort to busy herself with reviewing the schematics of the tunnels, reading her own personal book, anything to avoid confronting the thoughts beginning to swirl in her head when she was around him. She and the Commander had even played a round of mahjong, a game she despised. Then, in the quiet moments, her mind would wander back to Lieutenant Fraser: did he feel this same pull towards her that she did, him? 

She hadn’t pondered it long before they’d reached their destination. Their descent through the cloudy atmosphere of Alpha Onias III had gone equally smoothly, despite a light rainfall. As the shuttle landed silently and invisibly at the established drop point, Claire let out a long sigh and scanned the environment around the shuttle through the windows. Grey existed as almost a living, breathing thing as opposed to a color—it suffocated her vision as she strained to see through the clouds. A pitter-patter of raindrops beat a steady rhythm against the shuttle’s viewscreen.

“Anyone else worried this has been too uneventful?” she breathed out, noting that her accent—even to her ear—was more pronounced. 

“Aye,” came the low response from Jamie beside her. He straightened and adjusted the backpack on his back. “Let’s get going.”

With the efficiency of practiced drills, Claire threw on the backpack containing her medical equipment and backup supplies, and adjusted the setting on the phaser. As each member exited the shuttle, she gave one last glance-over at their disguises, content with the results. It would have to do.

 


 

The tunnels weren’t necessarily dark—they boasted a network of mounted torches which gave off an eerie yellow glow. However, any safety they felt in having even the smallest amount of lighting dissipated at the sight of the tunnels. Grimy chains lined the wall and occasionally clinked with the soft breeze of the team’s passing, serving to put Claire on high alert. The walls of the tunnels themselves were pockmarked and scorched from centuries of untold activity, the energy of the markings lingering in the tunnel enhanced by the low flickering of the torches. 

Even the pristine holodeck recreation had done little to prepare Claire for the unsettling details and sounds that existed in this space. With each step, the wetness and humidity seeped into her uniform, into her bones. Shivering, a chill ran down her spine. She had a bad feeling about this. 

The team was silent, save for the occasional crunch of the loose gravel beneath their feet. They were prepared, each clear on the plan and the layout of these winding tunnels and each with a phaser drawn at their hip. That certainty did not bring much peace, however. 

Ten minutes into their trek, they reached a slippery bridge across a wide cavern. Each member successfully made it across with minor difficulty, though Jamie instinctively caught Claire’s arm as her footing failed crossing it. 

“Easy, Sassenach,” he whispered. 

She nodded, meeting his eyes to signify her thanks. It was extremely off-putting to see the sharpness of his brows, marked by the dark arches common to Romulans. His pointed ears seemed similarly unfitting. She was sure her own disguise was just as disconcerting.

Soon, the team turned the final corner and came to a halt at the rendezvous point. It was a shallow alcove marked significantly by its pointed pitch-blackness and ample cover in the forms of large boulders. The torches lining the alcove had recently been extinguished, evidenced by the smoke still lightly billowing from them. On the ground lay a small glowing stone--the signal they’d been instructed to look for. 

The operative had recently been here.

According to protocol, Commander Baxter set out his tricorder, activating the program to emit a soft patterned buzzing. The operative would not be revealing themselves unless certain of the identity of the away team.

Claire held her breath as the synchronized countdown on their timers flashed 0:00. Her eyes scanned the murky darkness looking for movement, for any sign of the operative.

Then she heard a whistle and a slender form stepped out towards them, hands raised. The figure was dressed in Romulan formal wear, and Claire spotted a disruptor on her hip. Her long robes were slick with mud at the hem, and a long tear exposed a portion of her leg. Whatever journey she’d taken to get to these tunnels, it had not been a simple one. 

Slykhe nai ,” came the bright female voice. Bloated hand : the secret phrase to confirm her identity. “Kind of ye to show,” the voice then said in English. She advanced into the open space between herself and the team. Jamie stepped forward to meet her. 

Shaipouin,” he uttered the necessary confirmation of their identity, a random phrase chosen, meaning ‘false door.’ As Jamie advanced, Claire’s mind began to cloud—this woman’s voice sounded familiar.

“Ye have transport ready?” the operative asked. At Jamie’s affirmative, she nodded, relaxing her stance a bit. “Let’s get moving. Things are escalating quickly and I may have been followed.”

At this, Jamie tensed, bringing his phaser up. “Could ye not lose them?”

“I think I did, but I’d prefer not to stick around, if it’s all the same to ye.” A smirk.

Then it clicked. Geillis Duncan. Images of Chinese takeout, late nights studying, an obituary, then a funeral hall flashed through her head. This is impossible, Claire thought, staring at the woman she used to know so well. You’re supposed to be dead.

“Geillis?” Claire stepped forward, letting the word travel far enough to reach her old roommate’s ears. The operative’s head whipped around to stare at Claire, probably trying to place her voice as well.

In slow-motion, Claire watched two things happen: realization dawn on her old friend’s face and a small object fly through the air in her peripheral vision. They’d been discovered. The object had just enough time to land near Claire: an explosive. Then, Jamie was launching himself towards her, his body providing a shield. As the device exploded, all three were thrown by the blast, peppered with gravel and shrapnel. The last thing Claire remembered was her head hitting the tunnel wall behind her. 

 


 

When Claire finally came to, a sharp ringing in her ears and a throbbing migraine at the base of her skull let her know she wasn’t dead. She shook herself awake and sat up slowly, immediately searching the area for the rest of her team.

Hidden in the shadows of the tunnels. they were hunkered down, exchanging phaser fire with an unknown enemy. Her panic skyrocketed when she didn’t see Geillis or Jamie in the clearing and she feared they’d been captured. Then she spotted their two still forms laying behind a crouching Commander Baxter.

“Commander!” Claire shouted over the din to get his attention. 

“We need to retreat!” came his clipped response. 

Claire crouched shakily, letting her mind stabilize before moving swiftly towards Jamie and Geillis. “Angus, help me get them up!” She wished she had time to examine them, but they had to move—now.

“Doctor?” Rupert shouted, as he sent off another volley of phaser fire.

“Ready!” Claire answered, giving her shoulder to Geillis, who was groggily mumbling something undecipherable. Even in the darkness, Claire could see cuts all over the woman’s face, seeping blood. Thankfully, Geillis’ eyes fluttered open, and Claire helped her stand. 

“I’ll cover ye!” Rupert shouted.

In a blur, the commander led the team back down the path they’d traveled, the enemy’s fire following them. They moved as swiftly as they could with two injured members. Claire’s heart thundered in her chest, her legs already burning under the strain of supporting Geillis’ extra weight on top of her own while navigating the uncertain terrain. They made turn after turn, hearing the steps and shouts of their pursuers behind them, accentuated by showers of phaser fire into the walls of the tunnels. Near miss after near miss sped them along their way in a headlong rush back to the shuttle. Claire just hoped they’d reach it in time.

After a terrifying eternity of mad retreat, they were near the shuttle’s landing site, where they’d left it cloaked. Claire finally let herself breathe. They had made it. 

“DROP!” came the command from Rupert, who still brought up the rear.

They all did so. Claire threw herself on top of her friend as yet another explosive hurled over their heads. Thankfully, they’d been warned in time and all it did was shower them with dirt.  

“Go, doctor!” shouted Commander Baxter. “I’ll cover you.”

Claire didn’t think twice. She yanked Geillis to her feet, ignoring the woman’s grunt of pain and they ran—or in Geillis’ case, staggered—towards the shuttle. As they ascended the ramp, Claire began flicking on the engines. She set Geillis down with a command not to move and began preparations for departure. 

One by one, the team bolted inside, Claire counting to make sure every one of them made it. Angus staggered under a nearly-unconscious Jamie whose heavy form barely made it inside before collapsing with a thud. Then Rupert burst in, followed by the Commander. 

That was it. Claire hit the engines, letting out a gasp as the shuttle rocked under the phaser fire from below. Her blood was pumping furiously and adrenaline coursed through her, but she forced her mind to recall the flight training of the past week, letting muscle memory take over. No one had solely been assigned the role of pilot on this mission; they’d each learned how to pilot the shuttle and operate the cloak in case of ‘extenuating circumstances.’

These were extenuating circumstances. 

As the shuttle zoomed away from the planet’s surface, and consequently out of range of the phasers, Claire’s shoulders tightened with the knowledge that they weren’t out of trouble yet. They had surely raised alarms in their ascent. Careful to keep an eye for any proximity alerts, she piloted the shuttle into the Neutral Zone, grateful at least for the distance between them and Alpha Onias III.

A hand on her shoulder startled her, but she turned to see Commander Baxter’s grimy face wearing a terse expression. “I’ve got it from here, Doctor.”  

Nodding, she slipped out of the pilot seat then moved over to the back of the shuttle, where Jamie lay spread out on the ground and Geillis had taken up residence on a box of supplies. The slight woman sat upright, head drooping. At Claire’s footsteps, Geillis raised her eyes. “I’m fine. Dinna worry about me, Claire,” she breathed out through gritted teeth. Claire wasn’t so sure and ran a tricorder scan regardless. Geillis clutched her forearm protectively, and her ankle lay at a twisted angle. The scan beeped its conclusion: no life-threatening injuries.

Breathing out a sigh of relief at that, Claire tersely said, “I’ll deal with you later.”

Then she moved to kneel beside Jamie’s unconscious form, immediately seeking a pulse and finding it: soft but steady. She scanned his body, holding her breath for the results that displayed on the tricorder screen. Fortunately, no internal bleeding, but plenty of blood beneath him was beginning to soak the carpeted interior of the shuttle.

“Lieutenant, can you hear me?” she asked, pocketing her tricorder. “Jamie?”

Hearing no response, she lifted Jamie’s shoulder gently, turning him onto his side to assess his wounds. 

“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ,” she whispered. His jumpsuit had been ripped open by the blast and a deep gash ran diagonally across his spine, bleeding out swiftly. Underneath it, a muted lattice-work of intricate scars covered his entire back. If the situation hadn’t been so presently dire, her stomach might have flipped at the thought of what brutality had caused the scars.

As it stood, she mentally made a note to ask Jamie about it later and flipped him slowly onto his stomach. Pulling out her portable dermal regenerator, she began the temporary patchwork on his gash. The regenerator would stitch him up, tactfully weaving tissue and synapse back together. Once back on the Vanguard, she’d be able to do a more permanent operation—for now, her goal was to prevent him from bleeding out in this shuttle during their 24-hour journey out of the Neutral Zone. 

Her hands working quickly, she cursed the fact that the shuttle couldn’t jump to warp speed. He’d be fine but, though she barely knew him, her heart constricted at the thought of what could have happened to him on that away mission-- and all because he’d tried it to shield her from the blast... 

Damn you, Jamie.

He inhaled suddenly, his body lurching as pain receptors sent a barrage of signals to his brain. He tried to turn, ripping apart the delicate reconstruction of skin that Claire had begun.

“Bloody hell!” she shouted, more than a bit startled. “Don’t move!” she commanded, placing a firm hand on his side. He stilled, even if his breathing had picked up in an attempt to compensate, lungs desperate to get oxygen flowing through his body. A wave of relief coursed through her as she watched his body fighting to keep him alive.

“I’m fine,” his hoarse voice croaked out, even though his sheet-white composure said otherwise. “Help her–”

“I’ll be fine, Fraser,” Geillis laughed sharply. “I’m just peachy, ye wee smout.”

“You know each other?” Claire asked. 

“Aye.” Geillis smirked. “He’s been the thorn in my side during this investigation—carrying on about protocol and rules.”

“Ye look terrible,” Jamie bit out.

“Fuck you, Lieutenant.” Geillis shifted in her seat, a slight smile crossing her face.

Returning her attention back to Jamie’s back, Claire swabbed at the wound with some disinfectant to begin the patchwork process again. Jamie flinched, hissing through his teeth. “ Christ , it hurts.”

“I know. Let me finish and it won’t,” she reassured, quickly administering some painkillers.

As she worked, she glanced over at Geillis, whose green-tinted Romulan disguise had gone slightly paler with pain. Nothing critical, but she’d deal with her friend soon—and hopefully get some answers. Forcing her panic at her friend’s resurrecting turn aside for another time, she continued patching up the second stubborn Scot on the ground in front of her.

 


 

A staff of medical nurses had surrounded the team as they wearily exited the shuttle. Claire had barked orders to the transporter room, and herself, Geillis, and Jamie materialized immediately in sickbay.  

Grateful to be back, Claire had been able to turn to her more sophisticated tools, and Jamie’s back was now regenerating under the electromagnetic field of the biobed. As he napped, his back would begin to heal in stasis and he’d be on the mend. Finally content with his condition, she’d moved onto removing the away teams’ disguises. Then, she’d turned her attention to Geillis, who’d been stone-cold silent on the journey back. 

Gingerly, Claire began repairing the woman’s broken radius. She tried to visualize the bone refashioning tissue, spurred on by her regenerator, and strengthening its integrity; anything other than the coffin in which she’d last seen her friend. However, try as she might, she felt the heat of anger and confusion rising—until Geillis broke her concentration. 

“Thank ye, Claire,” Geillis spoke quietly.

Claire didn’t answer, instead opting for a silent nod. She didn’t trust herself to speak just then, especially with the rest of the away team present still. But Geillis was persistent. 

“I ken ye’re angry, mitts.”

“You don’t ken anything about me,” Claire said in measured turn, letting her volume rise a bit. “You died four years ago.” She roughly finished her work and stepped back. “I’m done, and you’re dismissed.”

“Claire–”

“Geillis, I’m not doing this now!” she shouted. “Dismissed!” In the silence immediately afterwards, Claire heard the blood rushing around her ear drums, her vision a little black around the edges. Her head began swimming with the beginnings of a migraine.   

After a long while, Geillis nodded. “Fine.” Then she swept up her assigned uniform and stalked out of sickbay. 

An awkward moment passed as Claire reined herself in. She glanced over at the away team, who were regarding her nervously. 

She rubbed her temples and smiled wearily at them. “Get some rest, everyone.” 

As the team began to file out, Commander Baxter stopped at her side. “Debriefing tomorrow morning, doctor,” he said quietly. Then he placed a hand on her shoulder. “You did well.”

Claire nodded. Questions about the verity of that statement floated in her head as she considered two of the six of them—a third of those assigned to her care—had come back injured. 

But soon, everyone was gone and Claire let her muscles relax as they left. Her shoulders sagged, and tears began welling in her eyes.

“D’ye ken her, lass?”

Claire jumped. She whirled to find Jamie, now conscious and watching her solemnly from his awkward position flat on his stomach. The machine above him whirred with a quiet hum, its white light washing over his exposed back. 

“I did,” she sighed, then crossed to him and pulled up a chair. “My old roommate from the Academy.” At Jamie’s look of confusion, Claire added, “She died before graduation. At least, I thought she did.”

“How is that possible?” he asked.

“Your guess is as good as mine.” A beat passed as she ran her eyes along his gash. Her heart clenched again at the sight. “And how are you feeling?” 

“Better, thanks to ye.” Claire had to agree, seeing how he was already looking healthier after time under the regenerator, much better than he had a mere 24 hours before. Feeling the irrational—and rather sentimental—fear of what could have happened beginning to creep back into her consciousness, she imagined each nano-stitch being applied to his wound. She let the confidence that he would be alright wash over her. She couldn’t quite convince herself, however, that the concern she felt was purely a medical one, a product of the oath she’d taken as a doctor to help her patients and her crew.

“Glad to hear it, soldier. It will take a few days to fully heal, even with the dermal regeneration, so I’ll need to see you again then just to make sure everything’s alright.” She gave him a soft smile, allowing a bit of the weariness seep through, matching the same exhaustion reflected on his face. It had not been an easy 24 hours for him, laying immobile in that shuttle. Her mind began to conjure up images of the wound he’d suffered and those scars… She briefly considered asking him about the story behind them.

Then her concentration was pulled back into focus when she noticed the way Jamie had stilled. His eyes stared blankly at the floor beside her feet, and his jaw worked. She waited silently for him to speak. 

“Ye saw, then?” 

Chapter Text

“Ye saw, then?” Jamie stated, more than asked. 

Claire paused, then nodded. “I did.” Seeing his jaw clench, she sat forward. “What happened?”

A long moment passed as he regarded the sickbay carpet’s navy surface under the stark lighting. Then he spoke. “The Borg. I was captured during an away mission to one of the Borg pods. We were cornered, there was an explosion, and when I came to, I was strapped down to a table in an assimilation chamber.”

Claire felt her heart catch. Assimilation was a horrific process, one she’d read about in her studies and one with which she had become very familiar during the war. The Borg used it as a way to incorporate minds and bodies into their collective; they inserted devices into the skin and pathologically connected each victim’s mind to their own–anesthesia be damned. Being cyborgs themselves, the Borg had perfected the cruel methods to create a hive-mind, collective consciousness harboring hateful, destructive beliefs. Namely that their conquering and assimilation of diverse cultures was a justified step towards the evolution of life. They did not exist as individuals, but rather a singular entity. 

Fortunately—or unfortunately—the Federation had had an inside take on the Borg; one of its most decorated officers, Jean-Luc Picard, had been successfully rehabilitated from full assimilation. He’d experienced the hive collective, the pain, and the terror. The horrors reported had given the Federation an intimate understanding of the Borg, given them a chance to fight back; ultimately, Picard’s understanding of the Borg was what had allowed the Federation their victory in the War. Still, Claire felt a pain in her chest at the thought, and her gut clenched in fear for the young man that had been Jamie. 

“You were assimilated?”

“Very nearly,” Jamie corrected. “It was my father that found me—but no’ before the Borg had laid waste to the skin on my back. Carved me up in search of implant sites for their wee invisible machines.”

“I’m so sorry.” Claire rubbed her temples. Christ, her head hurt. “I’ve seen many assimilated, even helped a few recover. Most don’t,” she said quietly.

“Aye.” His eyes were trained on her carefully. “I don’t tell many people.”

Through the pounding pressure behind her eyes, Claire focused on him, cocking her head. “Then, why tell me?”

A softness invaded his features just then. “Because ye don’t look at me like a different person. Some people, when they know, that’s all they see: a victim.”

Claire smiled. “I understand. I’ve met plenty of assimilation survivors who had a similar story. In fact, my uncle and I used to know an admiral.”

“Picard?”

Claire raised an eyebrow. “Yes.”

“I’ve watched all of his holo-interviews, searching for some kind of–peace, mebbe.” Jamie closed his eyes briefly. Claire took the moment to close her eyes, too, against the harsh light of sickbay. 

“Peace about your experience?” 

“Aye, and the war.”

“Any luck?” Claire asked drily, thinking back on her own interactions with Admiral Picard as a young teenager at her uncle’s honorary parties. He was very quiet, though not unkind. Extremely kind, if she remembered correctly.

“He’s a very tight-lipped man when it comes to the Borg, Sassenach.” Jamie chuckled softly. “And peace is not so simple. Ye ken that, though.”

Claire hummed, thinking back on her own years of searching for peace after the war. The hurt and devastation she’d seen on her own ship and the great scale of loss at the hands of the Borg had taken their toll on her. She’d needed months on Earth in the company of her uncle’s old friend, Dusty, to recoup. She knew many with similar stories.

“I do,” she responded quietly.

Just then, the soft beeping of the regenerator went off. 

“Looks like you’re done cooking, soldier.” 

She stood to shut off the regenerator and everything in her vision immediately flashed to white. She felt a wave of nausea overcome her, forcing her to fall back into her chair. At some point, her hands had flown to her head, and she felt her nails digging into her scalp, desperately gripping against the pain. Christ.

“Doctor? Claire, what’s wrong?” came the concerned voice of Jamie and rustling sounds as he tried to get up.

She thrust out a hand. “You have to shut it off first.”

Returning her hand to her head, she tried to slow her breathing. The pressure in her head felt unbearable, but she forced herself to breathe through the pain. The white in her vision was now a cavernous black, with splotchy flashes of color dancing behind shut eyelids. Suddenly, it occurred to her she may have a concussion, or something much more serious. She’d almost completely forgotten about the explosion back on Alpha Onias III which had knocked her out.

She felt Jamie kneel in front of her. “What do ye need?”

“10 cc’s hydrocortilene. Top drawer,” she bit out, pointing in the general direction of the shelving which contained the medication. Jamie’s footsteps exploded in her head like hammer blows as he went to fetch some. Soon, he was back and, after a moment’s hesitation, a soft hiss at her neck along with the tiniest of pin-pricks told her relief would be coming. 

Within seconds, her breathing was less terse, and she relaxed her grip on her skull. She chanced opening her eyes and found Jamie kneeling beside her, prepping another dose of the painkiller, should she need it. But almost immediately, the pressure behind her sinuses and eyes had disappeared. The drug was already repairing her head trauma.

“I’m alright,” Claire told him. Placing a hand on her chest, she noted her heart was still racing. Wordlessly, she scanned herself with the tricorder he offered her; it confirmed what she already suspected: concussion. However, it also reported elevated heart rate and adrenaline, along with cooler temperature. 

“Claire, ye’re shaking.”

At Jamie’s words, she glanced down—indeed, she was. She stared at her hands, not immediately recognizing them as her own. “I’m in shock.” 

Her mind was sluggish, and she searched for the next step only to come up empty. A nagging panic sat at the base of her skull, and a small voice whispered fear into her thoughts. Her friend resurrecting from the dead. The explosion. Jamie’s injury. The hazardous flight through the Neutral Zone. She had felt so powerless, careening out of control the entire mission. They could have all been killed and it would have been on her watch.

“It’s alright, a nighean ,” Jamie’s voice cut through her panic like a lifeline. 

Looking up at him, she forced herself to focus on his eyes, mesmerizing in their intensity even if they were dark with worry and exhaustion. Try as she might, words were difficult to form—her breath was too shallow. 

“We almost died,” she managed. “It almost happened again…” she whispered, trailing off as she remembered the helplessness she’d experienced as a nurse six years ago, discovering her commanding officer crushed under that cave, the fear of those trainees crackling like sparks in the air. It had almost been the same on Alpha Onias III. 

Confusion furrowed Jamie’s brow, until something clicked. Then, he spoke. “We didna--and what happened on Betazed, ye couldna have anticipated, lass.”

As she struggled to convince her mind of that solid fact, she hardly registered Jamie’s arms around her. Then, unconsciously her body melted against him, gratefully wrapping her arms around his solid form.

After a few minutes of begging her lungs to work for her, her breathing slowed, her heart was beating at a normal pace, and having someone to cling to had helped the tremors in her body subside. Vaguely, she registered the fact that Jamie was speaking, though the words were unfamiliar to her. Whatever they were, they were calming. 

Pulling away and extricating herself from Jamie’s arms, she looked at him. An unspeakable tenderness lay there, something she wasn’t prepared to see and it made her heart jump. His face was open to her, his jaw set in concern. While his skin had returned to its normal palor with the removal of the disguise and the accelerated healing of his gash, his eyes remained dark circles and he looked gaunt—but this did nothing to conceal how handsome he was. She felt herself transported back to the bar on the wharf, marveling at this stranger’s presence. 

Feeling herself blush, she stood slowly. Jamie did as well, and for a moment, there was silence. 

“Are ye alright, Sassenach?”

“Yes,” she said, her voice cracking a bit. She cleared her throat. “Thank you. Lieutenant.” 

He laughed in a tone she couldn’t quite decipher. “Ye’re welcome, Doctor.” A beat. “I’ll see ye tomorrow for the briefing,” he said softly, as he pulled a shirt gingerly over his torso.

“Of course,” Claire said. Then, helping him lift his bag gently onto his shoulder, careful to not irritate his back, she gave Jamie a soft smile. “Take it easy. I want bed rest for tomorrow, at least. Then report to me in a couple of days for a check-up.” 

“I’ll try, ken?”

“Don’t try—do.”

He chuckled tiredly. “Aye. Ye, as well.”

“Most definitely.”

He gave her a small salute and left. As the doors slid shut behind him, Claire let out a long breath. A sense of calm had definitely descended on her, but so too had something else. Something rooted deep within her about Jamie, a cluster of butterflies in her stomach. A sensation she hadn’t felt in a long time. 

With a sigh and a deep stretch, Claire began gathering her things. Joe would be arriving any moment to relieve her of duty. Then she would head straight to her quarters for a long, scalding bath and bed. 

Chapter Text

“I’m home, mitts!” came a shout from the living area.

Claire, still sopping wet from her hot shower, came padding out of her quarters to find Geillis stretched out on their couch. Her head was buried in the pillows and beside her, an open backpack; from what Claire could tell, the contents consisted of a datapad, bag of trail mix, and two bottles of whisky. 

“That bad, huh?” Claire remarked, continuing to dry her hair with a towel.

The sea of red waves parted and Geillis lifted her head, flipping her hair out of her face. 

“Worse.” 

Claire raised her eyebrows.

“I can see that,” she said, poking at Geillis’ alcohol-laden bag with a bare foot. She knew she didn’t have to remind her friend that cadets weren’t allowed to imbibe during the semester. 

Geillis snorted. “Och. Starfleet can fuck me.”

“Get caught with those, and they just might.”

Geillis sat up and placed her head in her hands. “I am this close to dropping out, Claire. I’m sick and tired of these arrogant arses in my training modules.”

“What happened?”

“Harrison.”

“Again?”

“Aye. I’m about to set in a course, and Professor Harrison Agathy butts in wi’ ‘Be sure to double check your coordinates.’ Claire, I’m going to strangle the man. I bloody well ken how to lay in a course!”

“Infuriating,” Claire agreed, collapsing onto the couch next to her friend. In the background, an old recording of the 2056 Olympics played. 

“Ye can say that again,” Geillis huffed.

Claire sympathized. She could think back on a couple instances in her own Academy career so far when, during a high-risk maneuver or stressful drill, a professor had simply told her to “stay calm and just get it right.” 

“He’s out to get me, Claire. Every day, it’s something. Professors don’t know what it’s like to be a cadet. They’ve been in the teacher’s seat too long, forgotten what real space is like,” Geillis said. Then she sat up straight as a rod. Claire could see a plan forming behind her friend’s bright hazel eyes. “I’ve got an idea.”

Claire shook her head, blocking out the sound of former Germany’s figure skating victory. Whatever had just dawned on her friend couldn’t be good. “Geillie…”

“No, mitts, this is brilliant. Professor Agathy needs tae feel that terror, live like a cadet for one moment. Tomorrow, for my exam, I’ll give him the ride o’ his life.”

…..........

Claire jolted awake, breathing heavily. Heart racing, she brought her legs up, bracing against the chill of her quarters in the early morning hours. That afternoon was painted so vividly in her memory—but it was one she hadn’t thought about for years. The next day, Geillis went into her flight path exam with the intention of making it a bit bumpier, a bit riskier than usual.  

In reality, the next day Claire had been informed that her roommate and Professor Agathy had perished in an unfortunate flight accident. 

Shaking off the memory, Claire sighed. Well, I’m up. She threw her legs over the side of her bed and wrapped herself in a robe. A cup of tea and getting a head start on the day would clear her thoughts.  Besides, as much as she dreaded seeing Geillis again, she hoped that this briefing would grant the Admiral and the task force exactly the information they needed to stop Randall. She hoped it would at least be a step in the right direction.


The next morning, Claire found herself directly across from a ghost. Geillis Duncan, now refreshed and uniformed in ensign’s wear, sat at the head of the table animatedly recounting the important information she’d gathered as an operative deep in the Romulan state. Her hair was as red as Claire remembered, eyes just as bright, if not a bit aged, and her energy lit up the room. Everyone at the briefing table sat in rapt attention at her account of the encrypted transmissions she’d intercepted from Jonathan Randall.

“They were directed to a member of the Romulan High Council, and they were brief. But they mentioned Borg technology, as well as his dealings with the Necesse.” With a press of a button, the decoded messages were transmitted to everyone’s datapad for reference. A quick skim was all the confirmation the captain needed.  

“You decrypted these yourself?” Commander Baxter asked. “Have they been checked?”

“I was chosen specifically for my decryption skills. If the Admiral trusts them, so can ye, Commander, ” Geillis emphasized, narrowing her eyes. 

Claire jumped in, her eyes scanning some broken phrases. “He seems particularly interested in maturation chambers and neural interlinks.”

“Aye. My knowledge of the Borg is less encompassing, Doctor.” Geillis smiled. “That’s why you’re here.”

Claire purposefully ignored her friend’s extended olive branch, returning her eyes to the datapad. “He’s hypothesizing modifications to existing tech and references to things I’ve only read about. This is beyond thorough—it’s almost obsessive,” she mused.

Across from her, Rupert nodded, clearing his throat. The lieutenant was stoic. “That confirms, then, the suspicions the Admiral had, aye?”

“Aye,” Jamie answered, beside her. He’d wordlessly found a seat next to Claire, and she had to admit she felt much calmer having him there. At the moment, though, he was less than calm himself. He seemed a livewire, ready to burst. 

“What suspicions?” Claire asked.

“That Randall may have some plan for the technology of the Borg—potentially dangerous plans.”

Claire took a breath. “Because of this interest in Borg tech?”

“Aye. If he does, that makes him a dangerous man,” Rupert concluded. “And given the Federation’s desire to keep the remaining Borg at bay...it was of utmost importance to be certain.”

Commander Baxter sat forward. “This doesn’t confirm anything. We have records detailing Borg research here on this ship. A simple interest in it, and a few references to their technology, means nothing. By that definition, Doctor Beauchamp herself would be suspect.”

“Interest is one thing. Ill intent, another,” Geilis broke in. Another press of her datapad, and a new communique popped up. “This is another encrypted message I gathered, from a member of the Necesse. It mentions a ‘culling,’ and calls for a ‘cultural assimilation for the ages,’ as well as the possibility that they have gotten their hands on some Borg tech–”

“But that’s from the Necesse. How does that relate to Captain Randall?” Commander Baxter’s brow furrowed.  

“The Necesse were found to be involved in an event immediately before Captain Randall went missing. Could there be a connection?” asked Captain Sirrim. The Klingon’s face was unreadable, but, having served with him long enough, Claire saw the way his mouth twitched when he was close to making a connection—or to victory in Parrises Squares. 

“Absolutely,” Geillis nodded. “There’s enough evidence and direct correspondence in these messages to prove they are directly responsible for his disappearance and given his detailed hypotheses for improving on Borg technology–”

“I knew Captain Randall before the war. He was a good man. I simply cannot accept–” Baxter began.

“Commander,” Jamie interrupted. “We ken Captain Randall has been in communication with the Romulan High Council about Borg tech—that alone is incriminating enough. We ken the Necesse are calling for some kind of culling, as Geillis said, and we now have correspondence between Randall and the Necesse in which they claim to have procured Borg technology.”

“I think there’s enough to assume that whatever he’s involved in, it isn’t harmless,” Claire concluded, slightly more firm than she’d intended. Her friend’s unwillingness to see what was presented before him was beginning to frustrate her.

At this, the Commander sat back, an unreadable look in his eye. He didn’t respond. 

“I agree with you, Doctor,” the captain said, with a quick glance to his first officer. “But we still need to find concrete leads as to what he, or the Necesse, may be planning. We need details if we’re to anticipate and put an end to it.”

“I may be able to help there, Captain,” Jamie said, sitting forward. He quickly displayed a rather personal message composed by Randall. 

“‘...the same recipe as Aunt Asda, bless the Four Deities…’” read Captain Sirrim, a puzzled look crossing his face at the words before him. “‘Ring a gong in my honor at supper…’”

“Captain Randall is Betazoid, sir,” Jamie clarified. At the captain’s piqued interest, he continued. “He has two brothers still living on Betazed. It appears at least one of them...Frank…has been in communication wi’ Randall regularly. He may have some idea what his brother is up tae.”

“That decides it, then. I will forward our findings to the Admiral. With any luck, she will see the necessity of a visit to the Randall’s of Betazed.” Captain Sirrim stood. “Dismissed.”

As the table gathered their things, Claire heard the captain speak sternly to his first officer. Looking rather chastised, Baxter followed Sirrim out of the ready room. As most of those gathered left, Claire followed the two men’s exit with her eyes. She couldn’t help but wonder what was on Baxter’s mind. She’d never known him to be so willingly stubborn during a briefing.  

She must have stared longer than intended, for Jamie spoke beside her. “I canna say I much care for the man, Sassenach.”

Jumping slightly, she let out a snort. “I am a bit surprised at him today.” Then she shook her head. “Commander Baxter is one of the finest officers I know and one of my earliest friends on the Vanguard .”

Jamie made a sound beside her, somewhere in between a grunt and a chuckle. But with a look to Geillis, who hesitantly hovered nearby, he said no more, smiled at her, and ducked his head in goodbye. As he left the briefing room, Claire noted the shift in the air around her. It was heavier. 

“Mitts,” Geillis said. “Can we talk?”

Claire felt her anger beginning to rise, and she turned to face her old friend. She had no interest in beginning a heated conversation right then.

“Just let me explain.”

Claire let out a huff of air and rubbed her temples, still feeling sluggish from the prior evening’s episode. 

“Fine,” she said, throwing the woman an icy look. “I’m meeting Commander T’Sen for breakfast in Ten Forward. You can explain on the way.”

With that, she turned towards the exit. Hearing Geillis behind, she continued her path with purpose towards the turbolift. 

“That day, the day I...died–” Claire could hear the awkwardness in her friend’s words. “–I was approached by Admiral Janeway. She recruited me for a mission. It was important.”

“What, and you couldn’t send a message? Nothing to let me know you were alright? You had to die?”

“Aye, I did.” 

“Why the secrecy?” 

Geillis was silent as they entered the turbolift. Her jaw was set and her furious green eyes flashed, but she said nothing. Claire forced her fists to unclench. 

“Deck Ten,” Claire said to the computer. It wasn’t until the whirring of the lift began, promising a speedy delivery to their destination, that she turned to face her friend. “Geillis, I don’t doubt the importance of the work you did. But, you cannot fault me for missing my best friend.”

“Then, what? Why can’t you look at me?” Geillis demanded. Claire felt her heart rate rising, but she stayed silent. Utter disbelief at her friend’s cluelessness raging through her mind. When she’d assumed Geillis dead, anger had held no place in her heart. How could she be angry at a corpse? But this? Deception and fabrication, even for the Federation…

“...for feck’s sake, I thought ye’d be glad to see me again–”

“I attended your funeral, Geillis!” Claire finally shouted, her voice being frustratingly swallowed up in the padded walls of the lift. “I saw you in your goddamned coffin.”

Her eyes searched Geillis’ face and found a flash of hurt. But the woman was silent. 

As the lift doors parted, Claire practically bolted through them towards Ten Forward. 

“You were my best friend. I trusted you implicitly with everything. And you just left, apparently, without a word.” Claire let the hurt drip off her words. They’d arrived at Ten Forward and she was done with this conversation. 

“I didna want to lie to ye, Claire!” Geillis finally shouted. “Ye have to believe me, mitts. But ye kent I had been feeling out of place. The Academy did not work for me.”

“But disappearing off the face of the universe and lying to everyone who loved you—that did?”

“Claire–” Geillis reached out to grab Claire’s arm, but Claire pulled it away. 

“Geillis, I…” Claire trailed off, feeling her anger dissolving into something closer to sorrow. This felt like losing her all over again. “I can’t.” 

With tears building despite herself, an occurrence happening too often in her life recently, Claire began to enter Ten Forward when Geillis spoke.

“I was recruited for Section 31.” Claire froze. “Ye ken it?” 

Claire blinked in disbelief,unsure if she’d heard correctly. “It’s real?” she asked. Section 31 was notoriously off-the-grid, the Federation’s method of operating in the grey area, so to speak. She only vaguely knew about it by name.

“‘Tis. Section 31 was my chance, Claire. I meant what I said, I felt out of place. Professor Agathy kent that too, actually. He and the Admiral offered me a way to make a difference, a real difference. And I’m bloody good at it.”

“Professor Agathy knew as well?”

“Aye. He joined Section 31, too.”

This is all too much . Claire rubbed her temples, then threw up her hands. “How do I know you’re telling the truth?” 

Almost as if she’d anticipated Claire’s question, Geillis presented a sleek Starfleet badge. The shape was the same as Claire’s own, but one marked difference existed: it was black and gold as opposed to silver. In awe, Claire’s mind snapped back to the reality of what the group did. She’d heard stories and rumors about a myriad of their morally questionable actions. “But Section 31 is...” Claire began, her brow furrowing as she searched for the right word. “...is–”

“We canna all be by the book. We arena all perfect like yerself,” Geillis remarked.

“I am not perfect,” Claire warned, a steely edge to her voice as she took a step towards Geillis. Bile rose in her throat as she thought of her failures during her time as a Starfleet officer. “So don’t even try that.”

“I ken.” Geillis let out a breath. “This mission I was recruited for—it was imperative. And we’re still only uncovering the surface of it. Claire, in order for me to have operated and uncovered what the Federation believes we have, I had to be gone. Without a doubt.”

For a while both stood, silently staring at one another. Claire’s mind reeled, rebuilding events in her mind to match this new truth she was hearing. Erasing the funeral from her mind was impossible; however, replacing it with images of Geillis being involved in questionable activities with the likes of Section 31 was harder. Claire saw her friend in an uncertain light for the first time in her life.

Taking a leap and putting together the pieces of the last day, Claire asked, “Did it have to do with Randall?” At Geillis’ quick nod, she pushed for more. “Does the Federation know what he’s planning?”

“Maybe.” Claire was about to speak again, but Geillis cut her off. “That’s all I can say right now.”

Letting out a sigh, Claire crossed her arms, suddenly feeling very vulnerable. “How can I ever trust you again, Geillis?”

Geillis’ expression softened, and for the first time since their reunion, Claire saw a glimpse of the young woman she’d known in the Academy. “I don’t know, mitts. I suppose ye’ll have to relearn. Can ye give me another chance? I’m still the same person.”

Claire hoped she was right, and deep down, she knew that actually, Geillis’ words made more sense than anything else. Geillis had always been a purpose-driven individual, extremely capable and head-strong. If she had felt as out-of-place in the Academy, Claire now saw the rationale behind her decision to join Section 31. And, while Claire was still reeling from the imperative to fake Geillis’ death, she also understood that rationale.  

What was it T’Sen always said? When you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. Well, here was the proof, the answers she’d been wanting—and they did seem probable.

Claire nodded. “Alright. Another chance.”

Geillis’ face broke into a small smile. “Alright.”

“I missed you, Geillis.”

“I missed you too, mitts.”