Actions

Work Header

For the Sake of One (You)

Chapter Text

Captain's log, stardate: 45033.4: It's been six months since we've left space dock at Deep Space 7, and we are nearing our first checkpoint at the edge of the Sol System. We will soon be headed beyond the Kupier Ice Belt to see what, if anything, we can learn about the formation of our own solar system. I am honored to lead such a distinguished group of scientists and am excited by the findings our five-year mission will uncover. Before we take off fully, however, we'll be making a special trip to the Neptune way station to pick up the final member of our crew.

Jung Yunho walked quickly through the corridors of his ship, acknowledging passing members of his crew as they stood to attention. He smiled, his spirits high, and greeted each by name. As captain, he couldn’t have asked for a better assignment: he had a good crew — dedicated and hard working — and a brand new ship, the USS Valiant.

He had been captain of the newly commissioned science vessel for less than six months, but that was more than enough time for him to fall completely in love with it. The ship was small compared to others in Starfleet’s armada — containing a mere five decks and a crew of roughly 60 — but she was quick and was one of the most technologically advanced ships he'd ever served on. Capable of achieving speeds up to warp 9.9, Yunho’s crew of scientists and explorers would be able to make trips to the far reaches of the quadrant in a few short years rather than decades.

From what he'd overheard, a few crewmen had dubbed the ship “The Bumblebee.” A fitting, if somewhat childish, nickname, he thought.

He strolled excitedly into the transporter room and nodded to the crewman stationed at the controls.

"Energize," he ordered.

"Aye, sir," the crewman acknowledged. Soon the figure of his long-time friend materialized on the transporter pad. Still dressed in typical Vulcan civilian clothes and carrying a medium-sized suitcase, the tall officer looked out of place in the sparsely furnished room. He saluted quickly before stepping off the pad.

“Lt. Cmdr. Changmin, reporting for duty.”

"Better late than never," Yunho said brightly.

"I apologize for my delay, Captain."

“I’m sure you had perfectly logical reasons.”

“Of course.”

When he didn't offer them, Yunho prompted him for more. “And they are?”

“They are of a personal nature and I’d prefer not to share.”

“Personal reasons kept you from reporting for duty on time? That's not like you, Commander.”

The Vulcan looked uncharacteristically frustrated for a moment before staring Yunho in the eye and answering. “I was undergoing the pon farr .” Despite the embarrassing nature of his confession, his voice remained as flat and unemotional as ever.

At this, Yunho grinned broadly. “You had to report for duty six months late because you had to have sex with your wife?"

“I had to report for duty six months late because I had to take part in a personal Vulcan ritual,” Changmin clarified. “Considering my life was on the life, delaying my rendezvous with the Valiant was the more logical choice.”

"And I'm sure the more enjoyable one."

"Time spent with Seohyun is enjoyable no matter what we're doing."

"Well, that's not fair. There's no way me and my little ship can compete with her company."

Changmin frowned, his gaze flickering at the chuckling crewman. Upon realizing he’d been caught laughing at an officer, the man straightened, faced flushed with deep red, and saluted nervously.  "I'm not comfortable with this line of conversation, Captain."

Yunho turned to give the crewman a pitying look before motioning that he was dismissed. "Don't tell me Vulcans are embarrassed to talk about sex?” he asked as soon as they were alone. “It's a reality for nearly every humanoid life form. Acting as if it's something shameful seems ... highly illogical."

"I have no problem talking to you about sex. I find it uncomfortable to talk with you about sex and my wife."

Yunho grinned and led his friend out of the small transporter room. "I apologize. I'm sure I should apologize to Seohyun, as well. Taking you away from her for so long. There was a reason I recommended only single officers volunteer for this mission."

The Vulcan arched one ink black eyebrow. "You believe my marital status will somehow impede my ability to work under you?"

"Not at all," Yunho informed him. "I'm just not in the business of breaking up families."

“I will be away for no more than five years. You are hardly breaking up my family.”

“Considering her background, you could have brought her with you.”

“She had her own responsibilities to attend to. The Federation Council has established a task force to strategize a plan for the increasing Borg threat.”

“Any luck?”

“Not as much as she had planned. As the sole Vulcan representative on the task force, she usually finds herself puzzled by the emotions of the other representatives that often impede progress.”

Yunho gave him a sympathetic smile before slapping him on the back affectionately. “We can be difficult at times. Come on, I’ll show you to your quarters.”

On the way, Yunho offered the other officer a brief tour of the ship,  pointing out key locations on board, including sickbay, engineering, and the scientific library.

“You were not exaggerating when you called this a ‘little ship,'" Changmin remarked.

Yunho scoffed. “I’m sure you know better than to insult a man’s ship, Commander."

“I was not insulting; I was merely making an observation.”

“She may be little, but she’s powerful. Trust me, after your first shift on the bridge, you’ll come to love her like I do.”

Changmin shook his head. “I will never understand the human predilection for forming emotional bonds with inanimate objects.”

Yunho stopped in front of a door and keyed in the security code before allowing the younger officer to enter before him. “This from the man who refused to speak to me for two weeks after I spilled a cup of coffee on his favorite Bajoran philosophy book.”

“I did not refuse to speak with you, Captain. I merely had nothing to say to you for that period of time.” He looked around the small sitting room of his quarters before nodding in satisfaction. “This is more than adequate. Thank you.” He disappeared into the bedroom to drop off his bag.

“No thanks necessary.” Yunho flopped onto the couch. “You would have gotten a room with a better view, but Yoochun called dibs on it.”

“Yes,” Changmin answered from the other room. “I heard you had selected him as your first officer.”

“I hope you’re not upset.”

“Vulcans do not get ‘upset,’” Changmin replied, coming to stand before his captain. “I’m sure you had your reasons.”

Yunho smiled. “To spare you, of course. He’s much easier to deal when he’s not worried about someone pulling rank on him.”

“Park to the captain,”Yunho's combadge interrupted them. “Please report to the bridge.”

He tapped his badge. "On my way." He gave Changmin a mischievous grin before standing and straightening his uniform. “He doesn’t know you’ve agreed to be a part of this assignment.”

Any other species would have classified the look that passed across the Vulcan’s face as “amused,” but as Vulcans did not indulge in frivolous activities such as humor, it would have been more correct to call it “intrigued.”

“Really?” he questioned. “If I may, I’d like to join you to the bridge and take the time to inform him.”

At that, Yunho laughed out loud and motioned for Changmin to follow along after him.

"What position were you expecting to be offered?" he asked as they left Changmin's quarters.

"Chief tactical officer."

"Tactical? On a research vessel?"

"Since my services as first officer will not be required, I would be just as satisfied serving in a position that would allow me some peace and quiet."

"Peace granted, Commander."

+++

"Report," Yunho ordered as soon as he exited the turbolift onto the bridge. Yoochun rose from the command chair to allow Yunho to sit. Changmin, still dressed in his civilian clothes, followed behind him to take his place at the bridge's tactical station.

“Commander,” Yoochun commented drily. “I didn’t know you’d be joining us. Things get too exciting back at home?”

“My home life is extremely fulfilling, Commander,” Changmin replied, not even looking up from his station. “Thank you for your interest.”

“Report!” Yunho repeated forcefully.

“Sir, we’ve picked up a distress call from 2.5 light years away,” his communications officer told him. Yunho racked his mind to remember the young lieutenant's name. Lee Hyukjae . A recent transfer from a much larger battle cruiser. Yunho made a mental note to find out why the young officer had made the sudden career change from the military to the sciences.

“Put it on screen.” The lieutenant hurried to display the message. When it appeared, the video was garbled and full of static. A frantic crew could be seen through the video's snow before a single man turned suddenly to speak to the screen.

"Mayday, mayday! This is the cargo freighter Nova 23521 . We're under attack. We've lost our shields, and we have few weapons. We request any assistance that —"

The audio interrupted abruptly, and the recorded image of the crew disappeared. A moment later, the view screen was filled by a massive cubicle-shaped ship. Soon after, the sound of billions of robotic voices speaking as one flooded the ship’s speakers. Their voices were calm and slow, contradicting the cruelty of their message.

“We are the Borg. Prepare to disarm your weapons and surrender your vessel. You will be assimilated. Your technological and biological distinctiveness will be added to our own. You will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile.”

"That's all there is, Captain."

"Captain," Changmin began, "we are the only Federation vessel in the sector. The nearest ship is more than 15 light years away and would take three days to reach the freighter."

"Hail the ship," Yunho ordered Hyukjae.

The young officer shook his head in frustration as he tapped quickly at his display screen. "They're not responding, Captain."

Yunho leaned forward in his command chair and watched as the message replayed on the viewscreen. "Helmsmen," he began, "how long will it take us to reach the source of this message?"

The helm officer, Lt. Kwon Yuri, turned in her seat to face her captain. "An hour and a half, sir, if we travel at top speed."

"Lay in a course." He turned to look back at Hyukjae. “Lieutenant, send a message to Starfleet,” he ordered tersely. “We will be diverting from our previous flight plan to aid a vessel being attacked by the Borg.”

He grinned tightly at Changmin who had already begun making numerous adaptations to the ship's defense systems. "I apologize again, Commander," he told him when he caught the other's eye. "Looks like this won't be as restful as I originally planned."

+++

The Federation didn't know much about the Borg; however, what was known was enough to make them the Federation's biggest and most mortal threat.

The Borg were half-human, half-cybernetic beings that had only one mission: Attain perfection.

They did this by taking technological and biological advancements — ships, computers, people — and forcing it to adapt for their own use. Whether the subject was willing was of no importance to them; the phrase “resistance is futile” was no intimidating exaggeration. Most of the time, it was the honest truth.

They consumed everything they came across in the galaxy. Their massive cube ships could overtake ships of all kinds in only a few seconds, and the Borg themselves, robotic, zombie-like creatures, had the ability to swarm in and turn entire cities of people into drones in less than an hour.

The Borg did not kill, did not enslave, did not steal. They assimilated. Ships were ransacked, stripped of any and all technology the Borg thought they could use and modified to fit their own personal vessels. Assimilation of the person was a violation. A hijacking of the body and mind. The drones took their victims and altered them to suit their purpose by adding cybernetic attachments, implanting sensor devices, and even removing limbs and replacing them with prosthetics. And as soon a new drone was created, the personality and will of the individual was bound and at the mercy of the Collective's hive mind.

"They're a fucking cancer," Yoochun said, eyes glued to the view screen as they approached the last known coordinates of the distressed freighter. He was lounged in his chair, his chin resting on one palm. He turned to look at Yunho and frowned. "If they ever got it in their giant, conjoined mind to attack Earth — or any planet in the Federation for that matter —   we'd never survive it."

There was no sense in denying his first officer's claim because everyone on the bridge — from Yunho to the young ensign at ops who'd only recently left the Academy — knew it was true. The Borg had remarkable defensive and offensive capabilities that made the Federation's entire fleet look like nothing more than children's model toys. Borg ships had the ability to not only regenerate from weapon attacks, but to adapt and prevent those same weapons from causing further damage.

"Try not to think about it then, Commander," Yunho said. "The last thing we need is for them to assimilate you and learn how completely defenseless we are."

“We’ll never reach their level; you realize that, right? It takes us decades to come up with the same technology they can steal in a day."

"Morale, Commander," Yunho reminded him coolly. "Remember crew morale."

"We're approaching the coordinates, Captain," Yuri piped up. Yunho rose from his command chair to view the helmsman's screen.

"Drop us out of warp, Lieutenant," he commanded. "We don't want to jump into the middle of a firefight."

"Yes, sir," Yuri acknowledged. She slowed the ship and took a quick evasive maneuver, guiding the ship around the perimeter of the scanned area. "I'm not picking up any ships nearby, sir."

Yunho turned in his seat and spoke to his operations officer. "Ensign Lee, scan the area. Are you able to locate the ship?"

"No, sir," Jinki replied. "There's something out there, though. It's large, but there's too much radiation and distortion for me to make out."

"Do what you can to clear it up. Changmin?"

"Yes, Captain?"

"What do you make of this? Could the message have been a trap?"

"The Borg have no need to entrap us, Captain. They could easily overpower us in a fair confrontation." Changmin read the data flowing on his screen, before frowning and turning to look at the ops officer.

"Ensign, adjust your sensors to look for warp particles. My sensors are picking up evidence of massive explosions, but no trace of weapon fire."

Jinki rushed to do as he was told. "Yes, Commander, I'm reading it, too. There are an unusually high number of warp particles in the area and they're from two different ships."

"Two ships?" Yunho began. "Well, where —"

"Lieutenant!" the young Ensign interrupted, shouting toward the helm. "Something is approaching our port side fast!"

"I don't see anything," Yuri said before the ship began shaking violently. The entire vessel shuddered as it rammed into the side of an unseen object and members of the bridge crew stumbled and fell from their stations.

"Yuri, back us up! Get us out of the way of whatever's flying around."

"Trying, sir." Yuri grasped the helm's station, her knuckles turning white as she struggled to stay in her seat. "New heading laid in."

The shaking of the bridge grew less intense as the ship moved away from its previous coordinates. "What the hell was that?" Yoochun shouted when everything finally stilled.

"I'm not sure," Jinki answered. "But whatever it was, we nearly lost our port nacelle along the side of it."

Yunho turned on him angrily. "Clear that damn view screen up, Ensign!"

“Yes, sir,” Jinki replied, obviously frustrated by his own lack of abilities. “I’ve got something, Captain. I’m putting it up on screen now.” The entire crew looked up to wait for the garbled view screen to clear. When it finally did, a Borg cube lay dead in front of them.

"Red alert!" Yunho shouted. "Yuri, full reverse. Changmin, raise our shields and prepare to fire. Everyone, battle stations!"

Crew members ran across the bridge to their stations, ready for the expected fight. Yunho gripped the arms of his chair, tension thrumming high through his body. He waited, heart racing and breath still, for the other ship to react.

After a few tense but quiet moments passed, Yoochun stood and studied Changmin's tactical readings over his shoulder. "Why aren't they firing at us? We just plowed right into them."

"Maybe their sensors can’t see us?" Jinki offered. “We had a hard time finding them.”

"Impossible." Yoochun motioned toward the view screen. "Even if they didn't sense us, surely they must have felt us."

"Should I fire, sir?" Changmin asked.

Yunho studied the image on the screen. The cube was small — most likely containing no more than a few hundred drones — and appeared badly damaged. The ship's outer hull wasn't regenerating, and trails of smoke and plasma plumed out of its surface.

"No," Yunho responded. "Ensign, where's the freighter?"

Dim light reflected off the young officer's face as he leaned close to read through the data pouring in on his display screens. His brow furrowed as he sorted through the information.

"I believe the freighter is in the cube, sir. Or was. I think ..." he turned to look at Yunho, his face stricken with horror. "I think the crew set the ship to self-destruct, then allowed the Borg to assimilate it."

"If that's true," Changmin added, "and the ship exploded while on board the cube, even with all their defense capabilities, the Borg would not be able to withstand a warp core breach that took place in such close proximity."

"A kamikaze maneuver," Yunho remarked softly.

"A more accurate comparison would be a Trojan horse."

"Either way," Yoochun remarked, glaring in disgust at Changmin's apparent coldness, "they killed themselves rather than let themselves assimilated by the Borg. Someone promise me we'll do the same if we ever find ourselves in a similar situation."

"Morale," Yunho reminded him again, eyes still studying the cube. "Jinki, scan the cube for life signs."

"What the hell do you think could have survived?" Yoochun questioned.

The young ensign hurried to follow his captain's orders. "There are none as far as I can tell, Captain. But I'm sensing extremely high levels of radiation that are still interfering with my scans."

"Radiation?"

"As far as I can tell, the whole cube is flooded with plasma radiation from the freighter's breached warp core."

"If there was anybody on that ship, they would have destroyed us by now," Yoochun commented. He left tactical and went to join Jinki at his ops station.

"Could an away team survive the levels of radiation on the ship?"

"Are you nuts?" Yoochun shouted out. He stormed away from the station to Yunho’s command chair.

Yunho ignored him. "Ensign?"

"Not without hazard suits and only for a short amount of time," Jinki replied.

"What are you thinking?" Yoochun asked.

"You're going to lead a team to that cube."

"You're ordering me to my own assimilation?"

Yunho grinned. "Hardly."

Yoochun shook his head. "The Borg never leave their technology to be scavenged or retrieved by others. Either they'll return for this cube or it's set to self-destruct."

Yunho stood and leaned over the command railing to watch the adrift ship. "As you said, Commander, the Borg never leave their technology for others to find. This may be the best opportunity we ever get to learning more about their weapons, shields, engines — everything." He turned to look at his disgruntled first officer. "We are on a research mission."

"That kind of mission would be better carried out by a battle cruiser or a ship with better armaments, don't you think?"

"Maybe," Yunho answered. "But we're the only ones out here, and as you mentioned, this cube will be long destroyed before we get help. Don't worry, Commander. We promise to keep a transporter lock on you and beam you back before anything bad can happen."

Yoochun frowned before rolling his eyes and turning away. As he headed for the turbolift, he motioned at the tactical and ops stations. "Changmin, Jinki, you're with me."

The officers moved from their stations — Jinki barely containing his own excitement — and followed Yoochun to the lift.

"Captain," Yoochun called, hesitating before leaving the bridge. "If the Borg come back while we're still on that ship, you better bust your ass to save us."

"Acknowledged," Yunho returned. "Good luck."

+++

The first thing Yoochun thought, as he and the others beamed onto the destroyed bridge of the Borg cube, was how grateful he was that this away mission required the use of environmental suits. The crewman working the transporter had done his best to beam them into a part of the ship that had the least concentration of radiation, but it was still, as Changmin had put it, "incompatible with life."

The suits — heavy, bulky things made out of a strong and flexible material — not only protected them from the chemical hazards on the cube; it provided the false sense of being untouchable.

Not that he really had anything to worry about. He scanned his surroundings with his tricorder, noting the fatally high plasma levels and low oxygen. There was no way any living tissue — Borg or not — would have been able to survive unprotected for longer than a few minutes.

The perimeter of the cube was lined with hundreds of deserted drone alcoves, most of them sparking and empty. Bodies of dead drones lay on the floor. A few teetered dangerously as they lay slumped along the railing, threatening to fall into the black void of the cube's interior.

Changmin turned, his normally nimble movements made clunky by his suit, and opened a comm channel with the other two.

"I will go and try to find access to their tactical information. If we can figure out how they're able to adapt so easily to our weapons' fire, we'll have a distinct advantage in future conflicts."

Yoochun nodded in agreement. "Good idea. Don't travel too far, though. Jinki and I will go and look at their engines and warp drive and see if we can figure out how they're able to reach speeds faster than warp 9."

"Aye, Commander. I will stay within comm range." Scanning the area in front of him, Changmin began making his way carefully across the cluttered bridge.

"Let's go, Ensign," Yoochun called out, turning to the younger officer. He grinned when he saw the younger man taking in the destroyed vessel with his eyes and mouth open wide.

"Close your mouth, Ensign, or something will fly in," Yoochun remarked, his voice teasing.

Jinki snapped his mouth shut. "I'm sorry, sir. I've just never seen the inside of a Borg cube before."

Yoochun's face turned serious as he looked around the vast interior of the ship. "Not many have. Or, at least, not many who were able to return home afterward."

"We'll defeat them, Commander." Jinki reached a heavily gloved hand out to touch a nearby alcove.

"You sound very optimistic, Lee. Do you know something I don't?"

"No, sir. Only that all armies, all civilizations, have weaknesses. We just haven't found theirs yet. But we will."

Yoochun picked up a broken piece of machinery and tossed it over the railing. "I hope you're right, Ensign. For humanity's sake."

+++

Changmin sighed as he made his way carefully through the cluttered ship, before quickly chastising himself. With the comm link between himself and the other two still open, it would not do for them to hear him expressing his frustration in such a human manner.

Still, searching for any sort of computer console in the destroyed vessel was proving to be more difficult than he thought and he began to consider that unfortunate option that there may not be anything left of the cube's computers.

He walked to the edge of the deck, and gripping the railing, leaned out and searched the dark void of the humongous ship for any clue as to where he should search next. He squinted, the weak lighting of the ship and debris preventing him from seeing more than five feet in front of him. Through the haze, however, he was able to see the light of a command console blinking only a deck away. If he could reach it, he could access the ship's computer and download the information he needed to analyze the ship's shields and weapons system.

That was easier said than done. The interior of the Borg cube seemed to consist of nothing more than open air and one or two narrow catwalks. Quite an illogical design for such a highly populated ship, Changmin thought.

He felt his way along the wall of the deck, clearing away large pieces of the cube's destroyed hull as he went. His progress was halted when he tripped over a large, but comparably softer, piece of debris. Kneeling to inspect the object closer, Changmin was surprised to find it was a young drone. Grateful he was the one to stumble across the drone as opposed to one of his fearful and trigger-happy human crewmates, he pulled his tricorder out to examine the body more closely.

He was unable to tell if the drone was dead or alive. Its skin — or, at least, the little amount of skin that wasn’t completely hidden by his cybernetic implants — was deathly pale, to the point of looking white; but that didn't mean much, as that was the natural skin tone for all Borg. Only one large almond-shaped eye was visible; the other was hidden beneath the large ocular implant that seemed to be attached to the large armor covering the drone’s head. And his body temperature, while low for most humanoid organisms in the Federation, was holding steady.

He fine tuned his tricorder to scan for the slightest sign of biological life — a pulse, respiration, anything — and was rewarded with a quiet beep as the machine picked up the barest sign of electrical activity in his brain.

He opened a comm channel with the ship. "Away team to Valiant."

"This is the captain," Yunho answered. "Go ahead."

"We found a survivor, Captain. He's alive, but barely."

"A drone?"

"Yes, sir. He is unconscious and requires medical help."

When there was no immediate response, Changmin tapped his badge again. "Captain? Shall I have the drone beamed aboard?"

“Negative,” Yunho replied.

“Sir?”

“Bringing that thing on board will present us all with an unnecessary security risk. You will leave it there.”

“Sir, may I respectfully remind you that are bound by our mission to provide humanitarian aid whenever necessary.”

“Do not argue with me, Commander. Leave the drone.”

Changmin frowned before relenting. "Aye, sir." He checked the sensors on his environmental suit. "We have 10 more minutes before we must leave the radiation. I'm going to try and access information about their weapons systems."

"Acknowledged. Contact us as soon as you're ready to beam out. I don't want you all over there too much longer."

"Understood.” Changmin gave the drone a final scan before preparing to leave. He barely had time to stand when an arm reached out and pulled him to the deck.

The Vulcan's surprised shout echoed in the open communication line he had with the others of the away team nearly a deck away. Yoochun twirled around, searching the darkness desperately for a sign of trouble.

"Commander?" He shouted into his comm. When the other man didn't reply, he grabbed Jinki's arm and headed off to search for the missing officer.

"Away team to bridge," he hollered as he opened a channel with the ship. "Locate Lt. Cmdr. Changmin."

"Away team, what's happening?" Yunho returned.

"We split up. Find Changmin."

Another officer cut into the line. "Sir, we can't read him. We're barely holding on to your and Ensign Lee's signal."

"Well you better hold tighter. I'm finding Changmin and you're getting all of us the hell out of this wreck."

Practically dragging Jinki behind him, Yoochun took off into the darkness of the cube.

+++

Nearly 200 meters away, Changmin lay sprawled on the ground as he tried to fight off the previously unconscious drone. His struggle was made all the more difficult by his own inhibiting environmental suit and the forcefield surrounding the drone's body. As he attempted to push the Borg off of him, all of Changmin's hits bounced uselessly off of the electromagnetic field.

Grabbing his arm, the drone twisted it behind his back and shoved him face first into the ground. Changmin twisted underneath him, bucking the drone off of him before jumping to his feet.

He quickly opened a line with the ship. "Changmin to transporter, emergency beam out."

He had no time to wait for the response as the drone sucker punched him in the gut, throwing him on his back.

Changmin lay on the deck, the feel of sharp debris threatening to poke holes into his suit, and fought to catch his breath. He forced himself to continue moving. He dragged himself backward in a hasty attempt to remain out of the drone's reach.

It wasn't enough. The drone was moving fast, propelled fearlessly by its own basic programming, and had the advantage of not being inhibited by a cumbersome hazard suit. The heavily armored body shot from the dark, falling on top of him, and straddled the Vulcan's chest. His lungs burned as the Borg's body weight forced out the little oxygen he had remaining in them. That was quickly replaced by an excruciating pain that shot through his neck.

"Commander!" he heard Jinki's voice shout out. The ensign froze where he was, face blanched. "He's being assimilated!" he cried.

Changmin looked down and saw that was indeed the stabbing pain he felt. The drone was still bent over him, with the assimilation tubules located shooting out from his arm and piercing Changmin's environmental suit and neck. He was bleeding, but as far as he could tell, he still had complete control of his mind.

"He's trying to," Changmin called out through gritted teeth. He pushed again against the drone, but his own fading strength was nothing compared to the injured Borg's. "But he is not succeeding."

“This is Park to the Valiant, beam us out! Send Lt. Cmdr. Changmin directly to sickbay!” Yoochun shouted.

“I can’t get an individual lock on you,” a nervous crewman responded. “Move close together. I’ll have to do a blind transport.”

"He'll beam the drone with us," Changmin observed, eyes closed and sweat glistening on his face. He continued to pull uselessly on the arm that was piercing his neck.

“Do it!” Yoochun ordered. Drone or not, they couldn’t waste anymore time on the cube. If there was one survivor, there could be dozens more that had already alerted the Collective to their ship’s presence. Another cube would be on its to assimilate them and their ship in a matter of minutes.

Changmin felt his pain cease for a moment as the prickle of the transporter beam removed them from the deck of the destroyed cube. Soon, everything went black.

+++

“I got them all, Captain,” the crewman replied. Yunho noted the edge of fear in his voice. “But, they’re not alone. A drone beamed in with them.”

Yunho shot up from his chair. “Beam it out!” he ordered.

“Sir, the drone is attacking the lieutenant commander. As far as I can tell, it’s trying to assimilate him. If I try to beam it out, with all that interference, the commander may go with him.”

“Transport them both to sickbay. Have a security team meet me there. Jung out.” Yunho hurried to the turbolift.

“Lt. Kwon,” he shouted just as the lift doors opened. “You have the bridge. Get us out of here.”

“Yes, Captain,” the lieutenant acknowledged. Without a second’s delay, she activated the ship’s warp drive and it jumped to warp 9. Starlight streaked past the main viewer as the ship and her crew hurried to put as much distance between themselves and the disabled Borg cube.

In the turbolift, Yunho braced himself to face the uninvited visitor that had been dragged onto his ship. A member of a race who, only less than a year ago, hurt him in a way that he thought he’d never overcome.

Chapter Text

The first thing Yunho saw when he entered the chaotic sickbay was three of his officers trying to separate his third-in-command from a determined Borg drone.

“What’s going on?” he shouted above the din.

“Fucking bastard won’t release Changmin,” Yoochun shouted. He and Jinki had managed to pull the drone’s heavy body off Changmin, but it still had his assimilation tubules embedded in the Vulcan’s neck. The ship’s doctor was crouched next to Changmin, attempting to do what he could to disconnect the tubes.

“Disable it!” Yunho commanded.

“We can’t. It’s shielding itself with a forcefield.”

At that moment, three security officers armed with phaser rifles entered sickbay.

“Shoot it,” Yunho ordered the officer closest to him. The officer raised his rifle and fired three quick shots at the drone. They were blocked effortlessly.

“He’s adapted to our weapons fire, sir,” the officer told Yunho.

“Already? It usually takes them three to five shots to adapt.”

“We tried shooting it with our phasers before you arrived,” Jinki admitted. “It didn’t stop him.”

Another officer, using his rifle as a club, approached quickly and attempted to knock the drone out. The Borg caught the gun in mid-swing and ripped it from his hands. The officer stood momentarily stunned before being sent flying across the room. He remained where he landed, winded and disoriented.

Nobody noticed the ship’s doctor moving stealthily behind the drone until he reached out and shot it with a hypospray. Hit with the medicine, it convulsed, removing its tubules from Changmin’s neck, before shutting down completely. The drone collapsed, rolling off of Changmin’s body, and slumping to the floor.

Yunho tapped his combadge. “Captain to transporter room, lock on to the drone’s signal and beam it off the ship.”

“We’ll have to drop out of warp first, sir,” the transporter chief reminded him.

The doctor straightened and stared at Yunho in shock. “Captain, he needs our help!”

“He needs to be off my ship!”

“I may need him in order to help the commander.”

Yunho looked quickly over to where Changmin lay, panting and gasping for air. He rushed to kneel by his side.

“Are you okay?”

Ripping the helmet of his environmental suit off, Changmin gently ran a hand along his neck. He pushed gently against the ragged puncture wounds and appeared to be satisfied by what he felt.

“I am not severely injured,” he replied. “The drone was unable to assimilate me.”

“We could use some help over here!” Yoochun called out. He, Jinki, and the doctor were struggling to lift the heavy drone onto a nearby biobed.

Yunho stood and, suppressing the disgust he felt, assisted the others in getting the unconscious drone off the floor and onto a bed. The doctor rushed to turn on the bed’s scanners and analyze the Borg’s medical condition.

"He's barely alive. He won't make it without immediate surgery."

Yunho turned on the doctor. "It's here to help with Lt. Cmdr. Changmin, not to receive a check-up. See to him first."

"No need, Doctor." Changmin rose from the floor, obviously still a bit dizzy and lightheaded, and went to join the others at the biobed. "As I said, the drone was unable to assimilate. Aside from minor injuries from the altercation, I am fine."

"Not that I don't trust your judgment, Commander, but I still want you to be checked out." Yunho turned to face his ship's doctor. "Prepare the drone for transport, Doctor ...." Yunho began. He hesitated. He hadn’t had much interaction yet with his chief medical officer, a young medical genius who’d spent most of his time on-board locked away in his labs.

The young doctor straightened before saluting quickly. "Kim," he answered. "Dr. Kim Junsu."

"Dr. Kim," Yunho repeated. "Get as much information as you can in the next minute; we're beaming it off this ship."

"No, sir," Junsu said firmly.

"Excuse me?"

“Captain, I cannot and will not let you remove this drone from my sickbay.”

“Are you forgetting, Doctor, that I am the commanding officer of this ship? I expect my orders to be followed.”

“No, sir, I have not forgotten; however, as the chief medical officer, I have the final authority as to the care and treatment of all my patients. I am bound by oath to help him.”

"Bridge to sickbay," Yuri called over the on-ship comm. The distress in her voice could not be missed.

"This is the captain," Yunho replied. He stared in annoyance at the doctor who had taken advantage of the interruption to attend to the unconscious Borg.

"Sir, we've detected another Borg cube. It's on an intercept course."

Yunho could feel his stomach drop at the news. Years of training kept his fear out of his voice, however. "How much time do we have, Lieutenant?" he demanded.

"Three and a half minutes."

Yunho frowned before looking meeting Junsu's nervous eyes. "Looks like it's this drone's lucky day. We can't drop out of warp with the cube after us. You may treat it, Doctor; however, security will remain with it at all times. I don’t want it going anyplace else on the ship except for sickbay. And the second it’s declared medically sound, it will be beamed down to the nearest, deserted habitable planet. Let it figure out what to do with itself then. Understood?"

Junsu nodded in agreement. “Understood. Thank you, Captain.”

"Don't thank me until we've gotten away, Doctor. Changmin, stay here and get treated."

"Sir, in light of the current events, I would be more helpful on the bridge," Changmin started to argue.

"Absolutely not," Yunho told him. "Not until we're certain you haven't been linked to the hive mind." Yunho turned to exit sickbay, motioning for Yoochun and Jinki to follow him. "Take care of the lieutenant commander, Doctor. His wife married him for his mind."

+++

Captain's log, supplemental: While we've yet to see visual signs of the other ship, our scans show we are being pursued by the Borg cube. With our chief tactical officer in sickbay, it will be up to me and the remaining members of the bridge crew to think of a way to outsmart our most dangerous foe.

"The cube is closing in, Captain," Yuri yelled as the officers returned to the bridge. "We can't shake it."

"Evasive maneuver beta-gamma-three, Lieutenant." The ship sped ahead, darting up and down, right to left, in an attempt to lose the other ship.

Jinki sat up in his seat, stiff with fear. "Sir, the cube is now in visual range."

"Put it on screen."

He did so, filling the large viewer at the front of the bridge with the image of the fast approaching Borg cube. This cube was nearly three times larger than the destroyed vessel they had left behind and was running at full power.

Yunho turned to face the officer who was manning Changmin's tactical station. "Ensign, aim phasers at the cube. Fire at will."

"Aye, sir," the officer acknowledged. Yunho watched as they fired and as their weapons were absorbed harmlessly by the cube's shields.

"Dammit," Yoochun cursed next to him. "That didn't even shake them. Fastest ship in the fleet and we're barely outrunning them."

"Fire again, ensign!" Yunho shouted, trying his best to ignore his first officer. The phaser fire hit the cube again before being absorbed by the cube's shields. Suddenly, the cube fired its own weapons, hitting the Valiant directly.

Yunho braced the arms of his command chair as the bridge shook from the impact. "Damage?"

"Our shields are down to 74 percent, Captain," the tactical officer replied. "No damage to the ship."

"They're going to chase us until we wear ourselves out. Ensign, arm a photon torpedo."

"It won't do any good," Yoochun mumbled next to him. Yunho turned and looked at the tight, fearful look on the man's face. Turning back to look at the screen, he gritted his teeth and stood to lean on the command railing.

"Fire the torpedo, Ensign."

Unlike the phaser fire, the torpedo was able to pierce through the cube's shields and explode off its port side. The ship didn't slow, though, continuing its high-speed pursuit of the Valiant.

"Fire again!" Yunho ordered. He watched as another torpedo flew from the ship, this time detonating harmlessly off the cube's shield bubble.

"They've adapted," Yoochun announced.

"Ideas, people," Yunho shouted. "Give me anything you've got."

The bridge fell silent, and Yunho glanced around the bridge to study the panicked faces of his crew. These were scientists, not soldiers. Brilliant minds used to studying life, not trying to destroy it.

"A Trojan horse," Yunho heard Hyukjae mumble to himself.

He looked to his communications officer. "Lieutenant?"

"Another Trojan horse, Captain."

"I'd rather explore other options before we allow the ship to be assimilated."

"Not the entire ship, sir. We've learned that their shields can defend them from an attack from the outside, but they can't do much on the inside. If we can find some way to blow them up from the inside out — send an armed torpedo, maybe — we'll be able to escape."

"How will we do that?" Yoochun asked, breaking his eyes away from the view screen.

"Beam one on board?" Jinki offered.

"We’d have to lower our shields, and there’s no way we’d be able to get it past theirs."

"We could send a shuttlecraft," Hyukjae answered. "Arm a torpedo, set it to self-detonate, load it on a shuttle, and let them assimilate it."

Yunho glanced back at the screen and the cube that was quickly closing the distance. "If they get close enough to lock onto the ship, we're through."

"I've worked on torpedos before, sir. I can get it armed and on a shuttle in two minutes."

Yunho nodded toward the turbolift. "Get to it, Lieutenant. Cmdr. Park, go with him." Hyukjae shot up from his seat and ran toward the lift, followed quickly by Yoochun.

"Captain, the ship will overtake us in a minute and 50 seconds," Yuri warned shortly after the two officers left.

"Do what you can to evade them."

The Valiant zigged and zapped through space, the crew trying its best to lose the heavily armored ship that remained on its tail. Everyone on the bridge already knew the outcome of this fight should their plan fail.

Finally, after what felt like hours, Yoochun's voice piped up through the comm. "We're ready, Captain."

"Launch the shuttle," Yunho ordered.

The small craft shot out from their shuttle bay and headed straight for the cube. It was taken in by the massive vessel nearly instantly.

“They’re attempting to assimilate the shuttle,” Jinki reported.

“The torpedo was set to detonate 15 seconds after launch, Captain,” Hyukjae added over the comm.

They watched, the bridge completely silent except for the beeping of sensors, and waited. If the Borg disabled the weapon before it blew up, the entire ship's assimilation would be guaranteed. A few tense seconds passed, and soon the stillness began to pull at Yunho’s already stretched nerves.

“Lieutenant, Commander, what’s taking so —”

Yunho was interrupted by flashing light that was followed by a massive BOOM that shook the whole ship. The vessel rocked as it was carried along by the explosion’s shockwave. Yunho looked up at the screen to see that the cube had been blown apart. The bottom half of the cube began drifting out of control in space, debris surrounding it like a dark cloud.

"How many torpedoes did you fill that thing with?" Yunho yelled to his first officer when he returned to the bridge.

"Just one!” Yoochun answered defensively. “It must have gone off near their engine."

Yunho turned back to the view screen and watched the burning ship as it tried to regenerate. He beat down the twinge of guilt that lanced his heart. He’d never been responsible for the destruction of an entire ship before, and watching it burn was hard to do. But they were drones, he told himself; nothing more than robotic puppets that brought death and destruction wherever they went.

"Jinki, scan the area."

"Nothing, sir. We're clear."

With that, Yunho collapsed into his command chair. He could still feel the adrenaline coursing through his system.

"Helmsmen, resume our course," he ordered, drained. "Full impulse."

+++

Chief tactical officer’s personal log, stardate 45040.1: The captain has ordered me to take two days leave from duty and to remain in sickbay following my attempted assimilation by the Borg drone we found. However, I must note that his cautiousness, while understandable, is not needed. I have remained fully in control of my will and my mental capabilities. The drone was unable to force me into the Collective, which causes me to question the strength of his own link to the hive mind.

"Feeling better?" Yunho asked, popping into the small private room in sickbay where his tactical officer was resting.

Setting aside his reading, Changmin took in the sight of his exhausted captain, noting the bags underneath his eyes and the strained smile.

"I am feeling much better than you look, Captain."

"Changmin, please. It's been a hard two days." Yunho slid down the wall and nearly dropped to the floor. He stretched his long legs out crossed them at the ankle as he tried to get comfortable.

"I apologize. Still, the fact remains that you need rest."

"I'll rest when I'm sure the Borg won't pop out of the next nebula we pass and try to take over the ship. Where's the doctor?"

"Tending to the drone."

Yunho frowned and rolled his eyes. "Why is he so hell bent on saving that thing?"

"It is his job."

“His job is to see to our crew.”

“Which is perfectly healthy.”

“Why are you okay with all of this?” Yunho asked with a huff.

“Why are you so suspicious?”

"Are you forgetting that it tried to assimilate you into the Collective?"

"Of course not, Captain. But that was merely an autonomous reaction. A reflex.”

“And do you think telling the Collective we were on his ship was a reflex, as well?”

Changmin contemplated this. "You think the drone alerted the Borg of our presence?"

"What else could have?"

"It is possible that they were on their way following the initial explosion."

"Right when we happened to be there?"

"It's not improbable, Captain."

“Your logic seems a bit faulty, Commander.”

Changmin bristled at that. “Captain, it is much more likely that the cube stumbled upon us while in route to the damaged ship than the cube arriving so quickly after our discovery of the drone.”

“They have technological capabilities we can’t even begin to imagine,” Yunho said softly, his tone soothing.

“But they still aren’t able to travel through space instantaneously.”

Yunho smiled, his face still worn out but softened by the look of affection he gave the other officer. “As rational and well-thought out as you always were, Changmin.”

The Vulcan frowned. “You insulted me to test me?”

“Small test. You passed with flying colors."

Before Changmin could respond, Yoochun entered the sickbay and slumped against the wall next to Yunho. His normally immaculate hair and uniform was in disarray and it was obvious he hadn’t seen the inside of his quarters in the past 48 hours either.

“Commander,” Changmin acknowledged. “You look like a mess.”

Yoochun wanted to roll his eyes, but they felt 10 times heavier than normal. He settled for a half-hearted sneer. “You’re still as comforting as ever. I saved your life, remember?"

"Your efforts were appreciated, sir, but I was hardly in any danger."

"Oh, that's right. Our new friend snuck a peek inside your mind and decided he didn't want to bother with it."

Changmin frowned and looked crossly at Yunho. "Is he saying that out of stress or is he insulting my intelligence as part of your test?"

Yunho gave his friend a sheepish grin. "We've been worried, Changmin. We haven't been able to check on you these last few days. We found ourselves missing your logic and complete lack of human warmth."

"I suspect that the drone's inability to assimilate me had little to do with my own appeal," Changmin sniffed. "Rather, I believe he is unable to assimilate anyone. I think he's been cut off from the Collective."

"Are you sure?" Yunho asked.

"No. But it's the only theory that makes sense. Reports have stated that assimilation by a drone is immediate, with the victim being connected to the hive mind in seconds. It's been two days and I am still unaffected. Add that to the fact that the drone is having trouble regenerating on his own, and that's the most likely theory."

They could hear the sound of the surgical bay doors whoosh open just then, and soon Junsu strolled into the room, eyes glued to a PADD.

"Commander, I believe — Captain!" Junsu startled at the sight of the captain in his sickbay. He wasn't ready to face the man quite yet following his bordering-on-insubordinate behavior before.

Yunho gave the eager officer a reassuring smile. He stood and straightened his uniform. "Report, Dr. Kim. What can you tell us about the drone?"

The doctor's face grew serious as he looked back down at his PADD. "He suffered second-degree plasma burns over 50 percent of his body, not to mention severe radiation poisoning. I had to rush him into immediate surgery to repair damage that was done to his bone marrow and most of his organs."

"Will he live?" Yoochun asked.

The doctor beamed down at him. "He has a very good chance of surviving. His Borg implants have done an excellent job at protecting his biological components."

"Can we see him?"

"Of course. Follow me." He led the two officers into another private room where the drone lay on a biobed, strapped down by a level-one force-field.

Yunho frowned as he studied the heavily plated body. "How was it able to survive the blast?"

The doctor reached over to lift the drone's right arm. Nearly a dozen attachments and scanners had been implanted into the limb. "It's my opinion that he's a scout drone. The Borg have altered and outfitted him with a number of different devices that would sense and protect him from external conditions. He had a level-three personal force-field around himself when he first came to sickbay. I believe that, combined with his distance from the warp core when it breached, helped him to survive the levels of radiation on the ship." The doctor lowered the arm gently before looking back up at the captain. "He wouldn't have been alive for much longer if we hadn't gotten him out of there. It makes me wonder how many others we could have saved."

"Don't lose too much sleep over that, Doctor," Yoochun murmured.

The doctor flushed before looking back down at his notes. "He's Human underneath all those implants," he continued. "Early to mid-twenties as far as I can tell and healthy besides his injuries."

Yunho looked down at the body lying on the biobed and tried to see the resting drone as the doctor described him. He was undeniably Human, with large eyes — one hidden completely by his ocular implant, a strong nose, and a small mouth. His skin was beginning to regain its color; the deathly white skin common to the Borg was beginning to be warmed by slight flush of pink on his cheeks and forehead. He was short for a Human, Yunho noticed. His growth probably stunted by the combined stress of the implants and not receiving ample nutrition.

He looked back up at his CMO. “Has it regained consciousness?”

“No.” Junsu handed over his PADD to Yunho. “As you can see, I’ve been tracking his brain activity since he’s been on-board. His brain is active, but I’m unable to get any sort of response from him.”

“Would it survive a beam out to a habitable planet?”

Junsu inhaled sharply and looked at Yunho shock. “Captain, you can’t be serious.”

“I think I’ve made it clear how I feel about it being on my ship.”

“But he’s still unconscious. He’d be vulnerable to whatever elements he was exposed to.”

“It survived a full warp-core explosion.”

“Barely.”

"I've made my decision," Yunho stated firmly, giving the doctor a pointed look. He gave the PADD back to Junsu having barely studied the drone's progress. "This ship is not about to become a ferry to a lost little Borg. Once it's medically stable, we'll leave him on the nearest M-class planet. It can remain there to wait for his big brothers to pick him up."

Junsu bit back his arguments. He knew it would do him no good to continue arguing with the captain. He was still new to Starfleet and had a reputation to build. Unfortunately, it appeared he’d be doing so at the possible risk to the drone’s life.

“Aye, sir.”

“Thank you, Doctor. I want to be notified the moment it’s ready for transport.” He nodded to the both of them. "If you'll excuse me, I'm going to go crash. I want to grab some sleep before we drop him off."

"Rest well, Captain," Yoochun returned.

"You too," Yunho shot back. "That's an order."

Yoochun gave a quick salute before watching Yunho off. When he turned back to face the young doctor, he noticed the look of curious confusion on the other man's face.

"Got a question, Doc?"

Junsu seemed to shake himself out of his reverie before grinning shyly. "I just don't really understand him," he said with a sigh.

"What don't you understand?"

"He's one of the most respected officers in the fleet and has served on dozens of humanitarian missions. This is a science vessel, not a battle cruiser. Why is he refusing to help him?"

"You thought he'd be cheering for the thing to make a full recovery?"

“I’m just a bit surprised by his behavior,” Junsu admitted.

“It’s not that surprising, Doctor. The captain had family at Wolf 359.”

Junsu's eyes widened in surprise before giving way to pity. Wolf 359. Nothing else needed to be said.

The Battle of Wolf 359 hadn’t been a battle at all; it had been an annihilation. A single Borg cube had destroyed 40 Starfleet vessels in only a few short minutes. More than 11,000 officers and civilians had been lost.

Yunho had been a lieutenant on the USS Kyushu when it had been called to join an armada stationed between Earth and Mars to halt an oncoming Borg attack.

They hadn’t been ready for battle. The ship had been on a diplomatic mission and was carrying nearly 100 civilians, including children. Yunho himself had members of his own family on board. But the order had come from the top; all nearby vessels were needed to assist to help protect Earth.

They had fired only five shots before the Borg had blown a hole straight through the saucer section of their ship. They had tried to retreat, and when that failed, the entire crew was ordered to abandon ship. The dozens of tiny escape pods — propelled by engines a fraction of the size of the starships — had scattered in a rush to escape.

Few managed to do so.

Yunho had watched as the cube blew up the first pod. Then a second and a third. By the time he'd turned away, eight pods had been destroyed.

It wasn't until later, after the pod he was in had zipped away safely into the black of space, that the dreadful had realization hit him.

He had no idea where his sister and fiancée were.

Chapter Text

Chief medical officer's log, stardate: 45046.2: It has been almost a week since we brought the injured drone onboard, and his body continues to grow stronger. His immune system has reasserted itself, and I've been able to remove 40 percent of his exterior implants. However, I'm disappointed to report that he still hasn't regained consciousness. I fear that while his body survived the break from the Collective, his mind may not have.


Junsu never wanted to be a space cowboy. He just wanted to help people. It was his brother who had the explorer's spirit, the desire to find new worlds and civilizations that was characteristic of most of Starfleet's officers. Junsu had joined Starfleet to watch over him, and chosen to study to be a doctor so he wouldn't have to worry about rank. It was a decent compromise. Save the sick and injured, and no worries about playing politics with his commanding officers.

Staring down at his patient, Junsu realized, with a growing sense of disgust, that he'd been tricked. Doctor or not, he was still a member of Starfleet and a tool of the Federation. This drone — his patient — would die simply because his captain had ordered so.

He sighed and turned back to his notes. The Borg and their reputation was not unknown to Junsu. He was aware of the devastating destruction they were capable of bringing into the entire quadrant. But he couldn't see all that in the injured man lying deathly still in his sickbay's biobed. Flipping on his log, he resumed noting his observations of the drone.

"Patient: Unknown drone. Body temperature: 37 degrees Celsius. Note that the patient has been holding steady at a healthy body temperature and metabolism for the past 36 hours. He has not regained consciousness; however, his condition has stabilized. I will have to inform the captain of his status and prepare him to be beamed off the ship —"

A clanging of a dropped medical instrument interrupted him. He paused his log and rose from his desk to check out the noise.

"Are you alright in there?" he called out. He picked up his tricorder and hurried to rush to the only occupied patient room in sickbay. But when he entered, the bed lay empty. Panic bubbled up inside him. If the drone left sickbay, he'd be shot on sight. He had to find it before security did.

Whirling back around, he found himself staring into the enraged eye of the drone. He'd barely had time to tap his comm badge before he was shoved to the floor.

+++

On the bridge, things were business as usual. The crew had been working hard the last few days — double shifts and overtime — to make up for the time they'd lost in their early dealings with the Borg.

"How are we looking so far, Lieutenant?"

Yuri turned in her seat to give Yoochun a relieved smile. "We're making good time and should be back on schedule in the next day or two. No Borg vessels detected in any of our scans."

"That's what I like to hear," Yunho piped in. After a hectic first few days, the Valiant and her crew were finally able to focus on their mission. They had to amend their trajectory slightly, however, to be on the lookout for suitable planets for their uninvited guest.

Yoochun rose from his seat and ambled over to Changmin's station. He stared at the other officer until the Vulcan rose his head in question.

"Still no voices?" Yoochun asked with a grin.

"Still not tired of asking me that yet?" Changmin replied.

"Nope."

"You two play nice with each other," Yunho commented, reading through reports on his PADD.

The chuckling of the bridge was interrupted by a loud crash over the bridge's comm. The high-pitched squeal of the doctor's voice soon followed. It sounded strangled.

"Sickbay to bridge, send a security team immediately."

"Doctor?" Yunho answered. "Is everything okay?'

The comm went silent.

"Changmin, go!" he ordered.

The younger officer nodded. "I'll have a security team meet me there." He hurried to the lift and was quickly whooshed away from the bridge. A few tense minutes later, however, his voice piped in over the bridge comm.

"Changmin to the bridge, Captain, we've got a problem."

"What's going on down there?"

"You'll want to come quickly, sir," Changmin replied. "It seems the drone has awakened."

Yunho shot up from his captain's chair. "I'm on my way. Yoochun, you have the bridge."

"Should I pull over to the nearest planet, Captain?" Yoochun asked.

"Forget a planet, Commander. Any large rock will do."

Yoochun smirked. "Aye, sir."

+++

For the second time in less than a week, Yunho walked into his ship's sickbay to find it in chaos. The Borg, who was now lacking many of his protective exterior plating, was standing with his back to the wall and glaring murderously at the officers surrounding it. Changmin and two other security officers stood with their phasers aimed high and ready to shoot. Junsu was crouched off to the side, attempting to scan the drone from a safe distance with his medical tricorder.

"What's happening, Doctor?" Yunho inquired.

Junsu stood and whipped around to face him. "The drone has regained consciousness, Captain," he reported urgently.

Despite the situation, Yunho grinned. "I see that. Did he attack you?"

Junsu pulled at the collar of his uniform nervously. "There was some confusion, but Lt. Cmdr. Changmin was able to control the situation."

"The drone was attempting to break the doctor's neck when I walked in," Changmin answered matter-of-factly. "We had to fire three warning shots at it before he would release him."

Yunho frowned at the doctor. "He needs to be removed from the ship."

"Captain, he's just upset. I can help —" Junsu was interrupted by the sound of one of his instrument trays crashing into the nearby wall. He and Yunho turned find the drone glaring at them in fury.

"What have you done to us!?" it shouted. Its voice was rough and husky from lack of use. It picked up another tray and tossed it toward their heads. "Where are the others!?"

"Please, calm down," Junsu began, approaching his terrified patient cautiously. "You're still weak. You don't —" Junsu was cut off by a sucker punch to his gut. He crumpled to the floor, wheezing and clutching his stomach.

"Where are the others?" the drone bellowed again.

Yunho rushed to pull Junsu out of harm's way. "What others?" he asked once he'd gotten in front of his winded doctor.

"Sir," Changmin interrupted. "I believe he is referring to the Collective."

The drone attempted to lunge at the Vulcan before tripping over its own unsteady feet. "You will all be assimilated. You will cooperate and take us to the others. Resistance is futile."

"I don't think so," Yunho retorted. "My crew has put their lives and their careers on the line for you. I don't appreciate your abuse of them."

“Where are we?" it repeated in a panic. "What happened to the Collective?”

“We think you’ve been disconnected from the hive mind," Yunho informed it.

“And who are you?”

“I’m the captain of this ship.”

“What do you want with us?”

“‘Us’?” Yunho repeated in confusion. “Who's 'us.' I only see one of you.”

The drone stared at him angrily. “We are Borg," it nearly snarled, teeth showing. "What do you want with us?”

“Let’s start with your name.”

“We have no name,” it practically spit the word. “That information would be of no use anyway.”

“I need to know how to address you.”

The drone ignored him as it tried to stand and regain its bearings. It clearly struggled to find its balance, its limbs now unencumbered by heavy implants. The drone looked down at his still healing body in disgust. “You have disassembled us. Why?” it demanded. His lone dark eye glittered in fury.

“You were injured,” Yunho told him coolly. “Our doctor saved your life.”

"There is no way our technology would have failed us unless you interfered."

“What is your name?” Yunho tried again. "Tell me or I'll have my security forces knock you back into a coma."

“Our designation is One of Five, Auxiliary Drone of Unimatrix 263. You do not know what that means.”

“‘One of Five?’” Yunho began. “Unimatrix 263? All that is your name?”

“Our designation,” the drone corrected. “Now answer us: Where are we?”

Yunho crossed his arms. “You’re in my ship's sickbay. Like I said, we found you alone and injured on your cube. You would have died if we had left you there.”

“You will return us to the Collective.”

We will do no such thing. Now that you're awake, we will release you from our ship and find you a nice asteroid to stay on.”

“Unacceptable.”

“Tough.”

The drone straightened and walked unsteadily to where Yunho stood. Up close, it looked even more gruesome than when it had arrived on the ship. With some of its exterior implants removed, Yunho could see the blooming flush of a fever in its skin and a sheen of sweat covering its face. The areas where its implants were embedded into flesh looked swollen and red. Yunho wondered, albeit briefly, if it was in any pain.

“We are Borg. You will do as we say.”

Yunho laughed humorlessly. “Sorry, buddy. It doesn’t work that way when there’s only one of you.”

The drone frowned. “We have studied your technology. It is inferior to ours. We can easily take control of this ship.”

"Don't even think it," Yunho said lowly. He turned and pointed to the officer closest to him. “You see her? She'll kill you if you so much as take one step outside of this room. You're very weak now; I wouldn't risk it if I were you.”

The drone examined Yunho, studying him from the top of his head to his feet. “Species 5618. Name: Human. We have assimilated millions of you. You are weak both in body and in will. Your species is unpredictable and unorganized, which is why you’ll never achieve perfection. You are one. You cannot hurt us.”

“You underestimate me and my crew. You’re outnumbered here, and if you so much as cock your head in the wrong direction, we will destroy you.”

“Humans value life too much to destroy it,” the drone shot back. “You are soft and overly sentimental. You will not hurt us.”

“We are sentimental, but we are not unpredictable. I value the life of my crew much more than I value yours. And count on this, if it ever comes down to your life or theirs, I'll always pick theirs."

The drone studied him a moment longer. "Then you are of no use to us."

It reached out and grabbed Yunho by the neck, nearly choking him. He raised his arm to insert his assimilation tubes into his neck. The security officers rushed to raise their rifles and shot at the drone. Unlike last time, it fell to the ground instantly, releasing its hold on Yunho.

Junsu rushed to its side, turning it over and scanning for injuries.

"Why did he fall so easily?" Yunho gasped, rubbing at his throat.

Junsu, who'd been fretting over the drone's phaser wound, looked up and scowled. "I've had to remove a lot of his implants. He can't produce his own shielding anymore."

"That's a blessing. Planet or not, we are getting this thing off the ship!"

"Captain, he's sick and defenseless. If we abandon him now —"

"I don't care, Doctor." Yunho snapped at the two security officers and gestured at the unconscious Borg. "Take this thing to the transporter room."

The two security officers grabbed the unconscious drone by its upper arms and hoisted it to his feet. They began to half-carry half-drag it out of the room, its feet dragging uselessly behind them, before it began jerking in their arms. Its limbs, flailing uncontrollably, slipped out of the officers' grip, sending it crashing to the floor.

"He's seizing," Junsu shouted. He rushed over to the drone and began scanning it. "More of his implants are failing. He needs my help now, Captain."

"Absolutely not. It's already tried to kill you once, Doctor. I won't give it the opportunity to try it again."

"Look at him. He's no threat; he needs us."

Yunho took in the scene. The drone was shaking in Junsu's arms and his security team was standing at the ready to drag it away. As much as he hated the thing, Yunho was not cruel enough to send it away in such distress. He turned back to the nearby security officer.

"Take it to the brig. No one, absolutely no one, is allowed down there except for Lt. Cmdr. Changmin, the Doctor, or me." Yunho tapped at his comm badge. "Senior bridge officers, report to the conference room for an emergency meeting."

He noticed Junsu as he went to follow the security officers dragging the drone away.

"I expect you to be present at this meeting, too, Doctor."

"Yes, Captain. As soon as I stabilize him."

"You have 15 minutes."

Junsu looked as if he was about to argue, but reconsidered after seeing the stern glare Yunho shot him. He deflated slightly and sighed in resignation.

"Aye, sir."

 + + + 

Captain's log, supplemental: The drone has finally gained consciousness and we're still unprepared to carry a Borg on our ship. The doctor has taken it under his wing and presented the hard choice of keeping the thing on board or leaving it alone presumably to die. I actually find myself struggling to decide.

"I've scanned the sector for the nearest planets that could support Human or Borg life," Jinki informed the small group sitting around the conference room table. He pulled up a map on the view screen. "There are nine planets within 10 light years that can support a fully functional Borg drone, but only two that could support a Human."

"Can either of those two support a sick, dying Human?" Junsu groused. "Because that's what's in our brig."

"Uhhhh ... " Jinki began awkwardly. "No?"

"So, we all understand we're leaving him to die?"

"Doctor, your objections have been duly noted," Yoochun informed him harshly.

Junsu had the good sense to appear chastened. "Noted and ignored," he huffed. " I just want the consequences of what we're planning on doing to be clear. I have a duty to ensure my patient's well-being."

"How's your neck feeling, Doc?"

Junsu rubbed his neck, embarrassed, but didn't cower. " We took him from his ship," he continued. " We prevented him from reconnecting with the Collective. We have a responsibility for him."

"He would have killed you, Doctor, and he wouldn't have given it a moment's thought." At that, Junsu paled slightly.

Yunho shot his first officer a disapproving glare. "Doctor," he began, his voice kind but firm. "I understand you're protective of your patient and you have to think of what's good for him, but I'm protective of this entire crew and I have to think of what's good for everyone. It already attacked you and Lt. Cmdr. Changmin. It tried to choke me. It's too dangerous to allow it to remain on board."

"Interesting," Changmin said quietly.

Yunho closed his eyes and sighed quietly. (Yoochun sighed, too, but much less quietly.) Most of the things Changmin thought were "interesting" usually ended up being big headaches for him.

"What's that, Commander?"

Changmin leaned back in his chair. "It may be in the best interest of the crew to keep the drone on board," he announced without preamble.

"What?" Yoochun snorted.

"Are you honestly suggesting we keep this thing with us for the long-term?" Yunho questioned at the same time.

"It is the most logical idea, yes."

"He doesn't want it!" Yoochun countered.

"All the more reason we need to to keep tabs on him. Captain, I believe there's enough evidence to assume the drone was assimilated as a child."

Yunho frowned. "What makes you think that?"

"His reaction after being disconnected from the Collective was one of fear and apprehension. I've researched the topic. There have been very few cases of drones retrieved from the Borg and disconnected from the hive mind; however, in almost all cases, the former drones reacted with relief and happiness, as if they were being liberated."

"Our Borg was terrified at the silence of his own mind," Junsu noted, mostly to himself. Yunho noted his use of the word "our" with displeasure. "He doesn't know anything outside the Collective. Not even his own name."

Changmin nodded in agreement. "As far as he's concerned, we've just ripped him away from the only life he's ever known. And if we leave him on his own, he will more than likely do whatever it takes to rejoin them. "

"And what's wrong with that?" Yoochun asked.

"We've already taken this drone onto our ship. He's mentioned that he's aware of our technology and capabilities. If we release him to be re-assimilated, that knowledge will be given to the entire Collective. And, they will more than likely come for us."

An uncomfortable silence settled around the room as everyone acknowledged the truth of Changmin's words. The Valiant was one of the most advanced vessels in the Federation's armada. If the Borg found out about the warp and science technology their small little ship carried, they wouldn't be able to resist assimilating it. They'd chase them around the galaxy until they wore them down. They'd never survive it.

"Lt. Cmdr. Changmin makes a valid point," Yunho said softly, rubbing at his temples. He ignored Changmin's smug nod of agreement.

"You'll consider letting the drone stay on board?" Junsu asked cautiously.

"I'll consider other options than dropping him off to wait to be re-assimilated." Yunho turned to Jinki. "Are there any colonies or space stations near by with a Federation security presence?"

Jinki tapped at his PADD as he searched through the notes he gathered of the area. "There's a Federation colony located on Ceti Alpha VIII. It's near a disputed area, so there's a pretty strong military presence."

"How far?"

Jinki fidgeted uncomfortably, unable to meet his captain's eyes. "2,000 light years. It would take 16 to 18 months to get there at warp 9."

"Or," Yoochun interjected, "we could stick with our original plan. The commander makes a good point, but if what the doctor says is true, Borgy won't survive long enough to tell the Collective anything about us."

"Absolutely not!" Junsu exclaimed. "I can't let — "

"Enough!" Yunho ordered. "I've heard all I need. I'll make a decision on what to do with the drone before we leave this sector. Doctor, you have until then to get it as medically stable as possible. Jinki, contact Ceti Alpha VIII and ask them if they can hold any prisoners. You're all dismissed."

Changmin, Junsu, and Jinki rose to leave (Junsu with great reluctance), and as soon as they did, Yunho slumped in his seat. He could hear Yoochun chuckle warmly next to him.

"I thought I dismissed you." he whined.

"Cmdr. Park left. Yoochun's still here, though."

Yunho put his head and his hands and sighed heavily. "What am I going to do?"

"First, dump the drone, and then, fire that doctor."

"He'll die."

"Nah," Yoochun scoffed. "The doctor's strong. He'll survive."

Yunho laughed despite himself. "If we keep him on board, he could take over the ship. If we get rid of him, he either dies or gets re-assimilated and sends the Collective after us."

"That's some pretty good summarizing."

Yunho looked over at his friend. "What would you do?"

"I just told you."

"What the doctor and Changmin said didn't bother you at all?"

Yoochun frowned, and Yunho regretted seeing his carefree grin drop so easily from his face. "It bothers me. I don't want those bastards coming after us. A very easy solution to this problem would be to just space it."

Yunho couldn't deny he hadn't considered doing that himself. Without its implants, the drone would never survive the coldness or vacuum of space. "That wouldn't be very Starfleet of us," he said bitterly.

Yoochun shrugged. "It'd be better than what it deserves, though."

"Is pretending it doesn't exist an option?"

"Wouldn't bother me."

They sat in comfortable silence for a moment, studying the maps still blinking on the conference room screens.

“You know what they've done, Yunho," Yoochun whispered finally. "They’ve killed. They've destroyed. And they’ll continue to go on doing that unless we destroy them first.”

When he didn't answer, Yoochun ran his hand through his shaggy hair and rose from his seat.

“Do whatever you think is best, but just know that no one will blame you if you pushed that thing out of the ship and left it to freeze in space. Hell, you’ll have a line of people waiting to help.”

"Have a good night, Commander."

"'Night, Captain."

+++

Despite the well wishes, Yunho didn't get much sleep that night, nor the following. Between his own anger at the Borg, his fears for the ship, and the insistent tugs on his own morality, he tossed and turned, before finally dropping off into an unsatisfying sleep.

He hadn't signed up for this. He'd wanted a nice, uncomplicated trip filled with radiation studies and quantum singularities. He didn't want to deal with potential warfare or ferry a prisoner around in his brig. He certainly wasn't ready to face the Borg, the current stuff of his nightmares. He lamented that this whole mess could have been avoided if they had simply beamed the thing back to its cube.

He'd decided to speak with his headstrong doctor. If he couldn't get the other man to reel in overwhelming sense of duty, at the very least, Yunho could get him to prescribe some sleep medication.

"Captain!" Junsu exclaimed when he entered sickbay. He looked flustered and exhausted. "I know you wanted the drone ready to beam out, but he's still weak. If you could just —"

"Relax, Doctor," Yunho said, interrupting CMO's nervous ramblings. "I'm here to check on you. According to reports, you've been on-duty for nearly 72 hours straight."

"Oh," Junsu waved away his concerns. "I'm fine. A little tired, but nothing that's slowing me down. The drone needs constant care. He's losing implants faster than I can stabilize his Human systems."

"Why not just take all of them out at one time?"

Junsu shook his head. "They've been a part of his system for too long. He needs some of them. There's a node in his brain that controls his breathing and other functions. If we take it out before his body is able to handle that stuff on its own, he'll die." He shuffled awkwardly for a moment before meeting Yunho's gaze. "Captain, have you made your decision on what to do with him?"

"Not yet. I'm aware of your feelings on the subject, though, so don't feel pressured to repeat them."

"I just think he could be an asset to this crew. He just needs a chance."

That shocked Yunho. He knew the doctor wanted to see to the drone's physical safety, but had no idea that he had also been thinking about its future outside the Collective. He picked up a piece of Borg technology that lay on a nearby tray and studied it. "You have a lot of faith in a creature that's proven it's nothing but an automaton."

Junsu shrugged. "I've had a lot of chances to speak with him. He's smart, but he's lost. We could set him on the right path. He knows things — things that could help us protect ourselves from the Collective."

Yunho played with the broken Borg implant, twisting it around on his finger. “Doctor, may I ask you a personal question?”

“Of course.”

“Why are you so invested in helping a Borg? You’re young, but you’re not naive. You know of the atrocities they’ve committed.”

Junsu frowned at him a moment then slumped down on a nearby biobed. He picked up a medical tricorder and began to fiddle with the settings.

“You’ve lost someone to the Borg.” It was more of a statement than a question.

Yunho swallowed. “Yes,” he answered softly. “I had family at Wolf 359.” Junsu turned and gave Yunho a pained smile.

“Small galaxy,” he offered simply. “My brother was there on the USS Melbourne. I’m sure you know what happened. The ship was completely destroyed and her crew … “ Junsu looked down at the tricorder in his hands before inhaling deeply and continuing. “Her crew was lost. Presumed assimilated. When I look at the drone, I can’t help but think of my brother. He’s out there somewhere helping to commit those atrocities, but none of it’s of his own free will.”

“This drone is not your brother,” Yunho told him gently.

“No, he’s not. But I just hope that if by some miracle, if someone ever did find him and save him from the Collective, they’d do everything they could to help him find his way back to humanity. Including forgiving him.”

Yunho gave Junsu a comforting look. "Take some time off soon, Doctor, or I'll order you to." He turned to leave.

"Captain," Junsu called out, halting him. "He's not doing well down there."

"'He'? You mean the Borg?"

"Yes."

"Explain."

"Normally, socialized Humans cannot handle long periods of isolation. They begin to suffer from anxiety, depression, hallucinations, things like that. The drone has spent nearly his entire life with the billions of others in the Collective for company. Forcing him to spend hours in the brig with no one else could drive him insane."

"He's just lonely. He'll survive."

Junsu sighed and shook his head. "It's more than that. He's breaking down."

"Doctor, he's lucky I'm allowing you to see to his physical health. Don't worry so much about his mental health."

"He's asked to speak with you, Captain."

Yunho froze. "Me?"

"He knows that you're in charge of the ship. He has questions that I can't answer."

Yunho's lip curled in disgust. "I don't have time to entertain it. Tell it anything you want."

Junsu stood. "I've told him all I know. Prisoner or guest, he has the right to speak with the ship's commanding officer."

"Doctor, you've pushed for a lot, but there's no way I'm —"

"Captain, please!" Junsu interrupted. He set the tricorder down and moved to stand in front of Yunho, blocking his exit. "With all due respect, you're treating him like a Borg. I know you don't have much compassion for them, but technically, he's not a Borg anymore. He's Human. And he's weak and alone."

Yunho felt the familiar sense of guilt (or maybe mercy — he didn't want to examine his feelings for the Borg too closely) coil in his belly. He wanted to hate this doctor and his over eager, do-good attitude. "I will consider your request, Dr. Kim," he finally acquiesced.

"You'll speak with him?" Junsu moved closer, giving his captain a beseeching gaze.

One look at the young doctor's imploring eyes, and Yunho knew he'd lost. He wasn't happy about it. "How do you do that?" he complained softly. "How do you back me into corners that I don't want to be in?"

Junsu grinned, sensing his victory. "He'll help you make your decision. I promise, you won't regret it."

"I doubt it." Yunho side-stepped the doctor. "Were you and your brother alike?" he asked as he walked out the sickbay doors.

"We were twins," Junsu commented wistfully.

"Well, then, he'll make it, Doc. You're both fighters, and I don't think there's a force in the universe that can change that. Carry on."

Junsu smiled in gratitude and gave a quick salute.

+++

Yunho couldn't deny that his curiosity had been piqued following his chat with the doctor. True, he had an idea of what the drone was going to demand — return to the Borg — but he wondered if that demand was motivated by a true desire to return or fear of being alone.

He'd stalled in speaking with the thing, waiting until after dinner when he was sure the majority of the crew was retired for the night. He'd slipped away from his quarters quietly and made his way to the lower decks where their brig was located.

While clean, well-lit, and warm, the detention cells in the brig were not made for comfort. There was no furniture to lounge on and nothing — not even color on the drab gray walls — to serve as a distraction to the quiet. When Yunho arrived, the drone sat in the corner, staring intently into the empty space in front of him.

From what he could tell, all of the Borg's external implants and exo-plating had been removed. It'd been given clothes to cover itself with, a simple gray gown from sickbay. The only remaining pieces that could be seen were the large ocular implant covering its left eye and the painful-looking wiring that seemed to be embedded in his flesh, stretching from his fingers and toes along the length of his limbs.

"You wished to speak with me," Yunho called out to him gruffly.

Alerted to his presence, the drone snapped out of its daze and slowly stood.

"You look different," Yunho noted with a touch of sarcasm.

The drone looked down at its now human body. "Your doctor has removed most of our Borg technology. He wants to remove our visual sensor piece next, but stated that he has to create a new eye to put in its place."

"That would be an improvement."

"We don't think so. Our implants protected us, helped us, gave us information. Now we are as weak as you."

"I'm doing a lot better than you at the moment. Your body was rejecting your implants. They'd began failing and were killing you."

"Only because no one on your crew knew how to care for them. Send us back to the Collective. They can repair us."

"Sending you back is not an option."

The drone considered this. "Our fate is yours to decide?"

Yunho gave a bored shrug. "It is when you're on my ship."

The drone turned away from Yunho and lowered itself unsteadily back to the floor. “You are a hypocrite,” it said softly.

“Excuse me?"

"You hate us because we are Borg. Your kind claim to be morally superior to us, but look how you treat us."

"You destroy people, rip them away from their families, their planets, their cultures, and force them to become one of you. You are a parasite that feeds off others.”

“You took us from the Collective and now refuse to return us. You force us to become like you, weak and unprotected. You lock us away, cut us off from anyone and everyone, and leave us to suffer in silence.” The drone’s shoulders slumped in defeat. “Alone.”

“This is hardly suffering,” Yunho snorted.

“The quiet is terrifying,” it said softly. “There is no one else with us. No one to tell us what is going on. We are not used to being alone.”

"One of Five," Yunho repeated quietly. "I assume you were always with the other four?"

"We were always with everyone. Now there's no one."

“I’d let you stay in sickbay if I didn’t think you were a threat to my ship,” Yunho told him, his voice devoid of any sympathy. The drone shook its head.

"We are one. An individual is of no importance. We are no threat."

Yunho arched an eyebrow. "It was one who tried to assimilate my friend, one who nearly killed my doctor. For one drone, you've really put this ship through hell."

The drone ignored him as he began to stare into nothingness again.

"Our doctor thinks I should release you. He says you could help us."

"We are one."

"I'm starting to feel insulted, One," Yunho commented with a huff. "We are all one, too, but that doesn't stop us from exploring, from fighting, from surviving."

The drone turned to glare at him. "You do not survive when battling the Borg."

"I'm getting tired of your superiority complex. I've reached my decision. You'll stay on board our ship until we reach a secure Federation location. You know too much, and it's too dangerous to release you."

“Will we spend the rest of the trip in here?”

“That, I haven’t decided yet.”

The drone's glare softened to something tinged with fear. "If we agree to cooperate, to not endanger your crew, will you let us out?"

"You'd have to convince me to trust you first."

The drone stood again, its balance coming easier than before. "We lied before."

"Great start," Yunho quipped. The drone ignored him.

“Even if we were able to reach them — which we are not — the Collective will not come for us. We'd have to find them.”

“How do you know that?”

“We are one. A single, damaged drone. It would be inefficient to waste resources to come for us.”

Yunho raised an eyebrow at the irony. “They do not value your life?”

"They do not value individuals."

It could be a lie, but Yunho had a feeling that it wasn't. What the drone said had long been corroborated by Starfleet's past run-ins with the Borg. Small away teams of three or four had been able to beam aboard their cubes and walk amongst the Borg without being noticed. The Collective wasted no time worrying about single individuals, even those armed with phaser rifles on their own cubes.

"Fine," Yunho said curtly. "You'll be allowed to stay in sickbay. Do not interact with any other members of my crew besides me or the doctor, and do not go anywhere else without permission. Break either of those rules, and you'll find yourself back in here. Understood?"

The drone nodded. "We will not offer resistance."

Leaving to alert security about the drone's transfer, Yunho shot a last comment over his shoulder.

"And don't forget what I told you, One. The lives of my crew are worth a lot more to me than yours. If you do anything to bring any harm to this ship, I'll personally toss you out the nearest airlock. Understood?"

He strolled out of the brig before he could hear the drone's reply.

Chapter Text

It was nearly 2300 hours when Changmin finally made it back to his quarters. He, along with the rest of the ship's crew had been spending extra hours lately, scanning nearby space and doubling their research efforts to make for time they had lost early in their mission.

He'd spent the past six hours with Hyukjae and Yuri designing and discussing tactical scenarios that would help if they ever came across the Borg again. The evening would have been much more pleasant if Changmin did not have to serve as an unwilling witness to the communications officer awkward attempts to romance the young helms officer.

He collapsed heavily onto his couch, enjoying the quiet of the dark room. His relaxation was quickly interrupted by the chirping of his comm alerting him to an incoming video call on his desk console. He opened the monitor and was surprised to see the poised face of his wife.

"Seohyun," he began in greeting. "This is unexpected."

"Captain Jung informed me of your injury. Are you well?"

He nodded. "Contacting you was unnecessary. I wasn't severely injured."

She studied him, satisfied with her assessment of his health. "He told me you encountered the Borg?"

"Yes. A drone attempted to assimilate me. It was unsuccessful."

Seohyun nodded. "I see that. I'm relieved. Losing you to the Borg would have been a incredible misfortune."

"I'm only one man. My crew would have persevered."

"To them, you are just one man. To me, you are my only husband."

At her words, Changmin leaned forward, settling in front of the comm console, and allowed his stoic features to relax ever slightly. "Yes, I am. I apologize for any distraction your worry for me may have caused."

She raised her head haughtily, but was unable to hide the small gleam of pleasure in her eyes. "Worry is illogical. I'm glad to hear you're staying safe, however. Knowing Humans, if anything had happened to you, your friends would have mourned over you for months, dropping their guard and leaving themselves open for another attack.

"They are not a species known for their pragmatism."

She nodded in agreement and they enjoyed a companionable silence. After the day he'd had, it was a comfort to Changmin to sit with his wife like this, even if it was only through video communication. At times, it was exhausting dealing with Humans and other species that felt the constant need to fill any quiet with unnecessary chatter and small talk.

"I have information you may find intriguing," he said after a moment.

"Yes?"

"The drone that attempted to assimilate me is still on our ship and he is being seen to by our doctor."

Seohyun quirked one delicate eyebrow. "You have a member of the Borg? Is it alive?"

"Alive and disconnected from the Collective. We believe he was with the Borg for the majority of his life."

"Is his mind still intact?"

"As far as we know."

"There have been few instances of Borg freed from the Collective. Even less where the disconnected drone is psychologically and emotionally stable enough to speak with. The research opportunity this presents is astounding."

"Yes," Changmin replied, sounding hesitant. When he didn't continue, Seohyun studied him thoughtfully. His subdued reaction was uncharacteristic. He was an intelligent man and naturally curious. He would not have allowed an opportunity like this to pass by without fully embracing it.

"But," she began softly. "I sense you're conflicted."

"This will present a rather painful dilemma for Captain Jung. He has experienced severe trauma at the hands of the Borg he has never fully dealt with. I do not want his emotions and pride clouding his judgement on how to treat this drone."

"Is he the type to be cruel or vengeful?"

"No," Changmin answered without hesitation. "But, he is the type to avoid dealing with issues that cause him harm. I worry he may abandon the Borg somewhere."

"The drone could be a source of valuable and irreplaceable information."

"Yes."

"If you allow it to leave your ship, he could be re-assimilated. If his knowledge is entered into the Collective, they may come after you."

Changmin gave her a pleased look. "Once again, I'm in admiration of your logic. It is flawless, as usual, but, unfortunately, the Captain may not agree with your conclusions."

"That's regrettable, but I don't think you have reason to be concerned. You and the Captain have been friends for many years; I'm confident that you will be able to provide wise advice and influence him to make the right decision."

"I appreciate your trust in my council."

She gave him a gentle look. "I've had plenty of time to observe your behavior throughout our marriage. Your decisions are always logically sound."

"As are yours. I must say, marrying you was the most logical decision I've ever made."

Seohyun let a tiny smile flit across her lips before regaining her composure. "It's late. There is no need for me to keep you up any later. Good night, my husband."

"Sleep well, my wife."

Chapter Text

Romulan Ale was illegal in the Federation. Not because it was particularly dangerous — the blue liquor was known throughout the galaxy for its ability to intoxicate certain species with only one sip — but because it was produced by the Romulans, the Federation's long-time adversaries. As a result, the drink could only be procured through smugglers.

Not like that was that difficult, though.

Tipping his glass back, Hyukjae took a slow, long gulp and savored the burn of the alcohol as it slid down his throat. What a waste, he thought as the warmth of inebriation settled around his shoulders. The best drink in the galaxy and I can't have it more often because of some damn politics.

The only thing Hyukjae knew about Romulans is that they were basically angrier, more war-prone Vulcans. Compared to their distant cousins, however, Romulans seemed to have a much better idea of how to relax. He took another swig of the blue drink and winced as it burned its way down his throat. He turned to his drinking buddy, face still twisted in a grimace.

"What year is this?"

Donghae hiccuped and grabbed the bottle. He struggled to read the label, which was now spinning because of his drunken vision. "2298," he finally slurred.

Hyukjae raised his glass. "Good year. How'd you get this?"

"I have friends," the crewman answered cryptically. "You'd be surprised how many in engineering have connections in Romulus' blackmarket. We stocked up for the long trip."

"Smart boys." He raised his glass in a toast. "Here's to the journey." They clinked glasses and emptied their drinks.

They sat in companionable silence for a few minutes, listening to the strains of music playing in Hyukjae's stereo. One of the perks of being an officer was having your own quarters. Being a crewman meant sharing a room with three other bunkmates. Donghae was currently bunking with two other Humans and a Klingon with a terrible snoring problem.

Hyukjae slid his gaze over to his friend and watched his head loll about in a happy, drunken stupor. Donghae had been in Starfleet nearly five years longer than he had, and Hyukjae was grateful for the other man's insight. Too impatient to make his way through Starfleet Academy, Donghae had rushed to enlist and joined the crew of the first ship that would have him. By the time Hyukjae had graduated as an ensign, Donghae had already flown to edges of known space and stared into the blackness. He had been itching to go out and explore deep space, but skirmishes within the Federation had kept him near Earth, serving on supply ships that aided the larger vessels of the fleet.

Hyukjae would be lying if he didn't say he was glad. He wanted his friend to be safe, but even more than that, he'd wanted a chance to catch up to him. He wanted to feel like his equal again and to take part in his own wild adventures like the ones Donghae had always seemed to find himself in. That was why, as soon as Starfleet had given the clear for deep space exploration and Donghae put in a request for transfer, Hyukjae followed.

"Have you seen it?" Donghae asked after a moment, interrupting his thoughts.

"Seen what?"

"The Borg."

Hyukjae shook his head. "No. No one outside of security and the upper command have been able to get close to it."

"I heard they moved it from the brig," Donghae sneered. "I heard it's staying in sickbay being waited on hand and foot by the doctor."

Hyukjae stared at the pattern in his ceiling and waited for the heaviness in his chest to dissipate. He hated any mention of the Borg. He had served as part of the Mars Defense Perimeter shortly before the Battle of Wolf 359 when the Borg had decided they would make an attempt to assimilate Earth. He had friends who'd been sent to stop them who had never come back.

"It's bullshit," he whispered bitterly. "The number of people on this ship who've lost someone to those things, and we're ferrying it around like it's some great ambassador."

"I've never seen one up close before," Donghae confessed.

"Me, either."

"Do you think it talks? Think it can fight?"

"I heard they can't protect themselves when they're disconnected from each other. That's probably why they're watching it. Can you imagine how the crew would react if it were allowed to walk around the ship?"

Donghae took a long sip of ale before answering. "I know what I'd like to do to it if I got the chance," he said darkly. He wiped his lips on the back of his hands before slumping back in his seat.

Hyukjae's mother never approved of him drinking. She'd had to clean him up after too many bar fights. Alcohol made men brave, she'd told him, but it also made them stupid.

"We should introduce ourselves," he commented bitterly. "I know there are some other crew members who'd love to meet it."

"I don't think the doctor would like us causing a scene in his sickbay."

"We'll just have to visit when he's away, then."

Donghae grinned cruelly. "I think I can make that happen."

Hyukjae turned to look at him. "How?" he questioned.

His friend poured himself another drink. "I told you, I have friends."

+++

Chief medical officer's log, stardate: 45088.9: It's been only a few days since the captain allowed the Borg drone to leave the brig and he's already doing much better. I'm going to work hard to help him fit in with the other members of the crew — something I still need help with myself now and then.

Junsu took a step back from the recently unassimilated man in front of him and studied his work. Not half bad, he thought to himself. For my first face. He reached out and gently patted at the healing pink flesh surround the drone's eye.

“How does it feel?” Junsu asked. He’d transplanted the new eye that morning, completely removing the drone's optic eye piece. He thought he'd done an excellent job of matching the nearly black iris of the replacement eye with the drone’s own. Now, for the first time since coming on board, the Borg's face was completely exposed, save for a few pieces of hardware above his left brow that were too deeply embedded to be removed safely.

The Borg touched his face and gently ran the pads of his fingers over his brow. “It is acceptable.”

Junsu gave a teasing smile. “I guess that’s as close to a compliment as I’ll get.” He took a step back and studied his work. “It wasn’t really needed, but having both eyes will help you fit in better.”

"Fitting in is irrelevant, Doctor. We have been instructed not to leave this room."

"For now, but that could change " Junsu pulled his tricorder out of his lab coat pocket and scanned. "You're healing much faster than even I expected. There's no medical reason to force you to stay in sickbay."

"We do not think your captain is concerned with medicine."

"He may come around. Have you given any thought to your future?"

The ex-drone frowned in confusion. "We are being transferred to another Federation facility."

"Beyond that, I mean. Will you try to find your family?"

"We have no family."

Junsu scoffed. "Of course you have family. The Borg didn't just find you floating in a nebula. You're Human; you could have family back on Earth." He stopped scanning and turned to grab a small mirror off a nearby table. He held it up, allowing his patient to see his Human face fully for the first time. "What do you think?"

He pulled at his bangs — not used to having hair — and winced. “We look ... different,” he replied.

“You look Human,” Junsu confirmed.

“We do not feel Human.”

"You'll get there."

He ran his fingers across his face, touching the technology along his jaw the doctor was unable to remove. He found comfort in its presence. Junsu gently slapped his hand away and then feathered his black bangs along his forehead, attempting to hide the implants.

"We should give you a name," he said offhandedly as he ran his fingers through the Borg's new hair.

"We do not require a name."

"Everyone needs a name. We need something to call you until we can find out who you are."

"Our designation is One of Five."

"That's what you want to be called?"

"It is what we are used to."

Junsu shrugged. "I guess One does sort of suit you. You're very unique."

"We do not welcome this uniqueness."

The doctor held his tongue. He'd spent much of the morning trying to convince the former drone to accept his individuality. He might have agreed to follow Yunho's command to not attempt to re-establish a connection with the Collective, but that didn't mean he was ready to stop viewing himself as a part of it. Junsu had tried to help him accept his new found independence, asking him to try and refer to himself as "I" rather than "we." He'd failed to comprehend the difference.

Junsu's thoughts were interrupted by the quiet whoosh of the sickbay doors. He turned to see Yunho strolling into the bay before quickly stopping short, surprise evident on his face.

"Captain!" Junsu greeted cheerfully. "Come and properly meet our guest."

Yunho took in the sight that awaited him in the bay and felt the ridiculous urge to laugh. The drone stood in the middle of the room — his discomfort so apparent it was nearly tangible — as the doctor bustled around him, fixing his hair and straightening his clothes. He seemed to be cooperating, allowing the other man to touch him with no problem and following his instructions.

The full essence of his humanity was apparent now. He was dressed in plain civilian clothes — a loose tunic over a pair of slacks — that appeared to be just slightly too big for him. The deep blue of the shirt contrasted nicely with the now healthy flush of his skin. With the exception of a few small pieces of metal along his jaw, above his eye and laced around his fingers, hands, and wrists, all of his Borg implants, plating, and technology had been removed. The doctor had also done something to stimulate his hair to grow, and now, shiny black locks framed the Borg's angular face. Without all the heavy technology adding bulk to his frame, Yunho could easily see how lean he was. He needs to eat something, he thought absently.

Ignoring the curious gaze of the ex-drone, he turned to face Junsu. “Doctor, report.”

Junsu beamed at him and turned to show off the man in front of him. “As you can see, he's doing much better this morning. I’ve been successful in removing 90 percent of his implants. I’ll have to see about getting him a place to regenerate once he’s able to do so on his own, but he’s nearly completely healed.”

"Regenerate?"

"He's no longer Borg, but his cybernetic systems will still need constant charging. Energy gained only through food won't be near enough."

"We'll see about building him something," Yunho said with a sigh. The Borg's needs seemed never ending. As soon as they saw to one, five more popped up. Yunho turned to eye him. “How are you doing in here compared to the brig?”

One's gaze shifted warily back and forth between Yunho and Junsu before he gave a small shrug. “It is acceptable. The doctor’s company is helpful. His constant talking keeps us from feeling alone. We are coping much better.”

Junsu feigned offense. "You lived with the thoughts of a billion other people in your head and you think I talk too much?"

Both Yunho and the Borg ignored him. “Do you understand your place here?” Yunho asked curtly.

“We are on board the Federation starship Valiant, located in—”

“No,” Yunho interrupted with an annoyed shake of his head. “Do you understand your relationship with the crew?"

"We are not allowed to speak or interact with them."

“You are still a prisoner on this ship. Don’t forget it."

"We understand."

"If we're going to find a place for him to regenerate, I'll need to study his energy output more," Junsu muttered more to himself than anyone else.

"Think you'll need help from engineering?" Yunho asked.

Still deep in thought, it took Junsu a moment to answer. "Oh, I can handle it. I'll send them my findings and let you know what we come up with."

"Fine with me." Yunho gave him a nod before turning to leave. "Carry on, Doctor."

One watched as Yunho exited the bay, his strides quick and rushed, then glanced over to see Junsu studying the assimilation technology still in his arm. ("We are no danger," he had comforted when Junsu had discovered the tubules were still active. "With our link to the hive mind broken, our technology is only useful now for assimilating information for our own use, not people." The doctor had looked less than convinced.)

"We do not understand your captain," he told the doctor once they were left alone again.

Junsu snorted. "Me neither." He lifted One's arm up and pressed a thumb into a wire running down into the crook of his elbow. The drone tried not to wince in pain.

"He does not like us, he says we are a prisoner, but he allows you to help us."

"Well, that, I do understand. The captain has a ... " Junsu struggled to find a word that wouldn't offend, "painful history with the Borg, but he can't ignore his duty as a Starfleet officer to provide aid to those in need."

"The Borg have no use for those in need. Our goal is to become better, to achieve perfection. People lacking that would only hold us back."

The doctor gave him a gentle smile before lowering his arm and moving to stand in front of him. "Humans do things a bit differently."

"What do they strive for?"

Junsu shrugged. "It's different for everyone. Mine is to help as many people as I can."

"Each Human has their own goal? How does your species achieve anything?"

"We find people with goals similar to ours. We can work together when we need to. For example, one goal all the people on this ship share is to complete our mission and return home safely."

The drone considered this. "What is your captain's goal?"

"I don't know him that well," Junsu admitted. "But he's a good captain, I've heard he's an excellent officer, and I know he has a great reputation in the science community. I'm sure his goal is to have a successful mission."

"Tell us more about him."

Junsu cocked his head in amusement. "You're pretty fixated on the captain."

"He is the only other Human we know beside you," One offered simply. "We wish to acquire more information."

Junsu gave the other man's hair a playful tug. "There's no rush. A lot's happened to you these past three weeks. You'll have time to learn all you want."

+++

But it seemed "learn" was apparently all that his patient was interested in. His Borg conditioning hadn't completely left him yet and so, in his drive to take in as much information about the ship and crew as he could, he had barraged Junsu with question after question, ranging from general information about the ship's systems to the health histories of every member of the crew. Noticing he was beginning to wear on Junsu's patience, he'd offered to assimilate the necessary information from the computer's databanks. Junsu had told him that wouldn't be necessary.

He'd finally found a chance to escape the "interrogation" when One had to spend a few hours resting, and had left sickbay to grab lunch in the mess hall. He looked out in the throng of officers and found two familiar faces.

He wasn't surprised to see the two commanders together. He'd noticed that Cmdr. Park had spent a lot of time in Lt. Cmdr. Changmin's company ever since he'd come on board, and while the other officer seemed put off by his presence, he tolerated him better than Junsu had expected.

"Commanders, may I join you?" he asked, approaching the table where Yoochun and Changmin were eating lunch.

"Certainly." Yoochun pulled out a chair for the younger man. "I'm surprised to see you out of sickbay, Doc," he joked. "You've been playing wet nurse for days." He snatched a piece of bread off Junsu's tray just as the other man sat down.

"One doesn't like to be alone. He's resting now and I have the bay locked up, but I can't stay away for too long."

Changmin cocked his head in curiosity. "'One'?"

"That's what I've been calling the Borg."

"You named it?" Yoochun asked, disgusted.

"I had to call him something. I haven't been able to find his real name yet."

"You think it has a name?"

Junsu rolled his eyes. "Of course he has a name, Commander. The Borg took him when he was a child, which means he had Human parents which means he has a name."

Changmin grinned his approval. "Your logic is rudimentary but reasonable."

"Watch it, Doc. Logic makes Changmin hot."

Junsu flushed and the Vulcan scowled. "Your crudeness never ceases to amaze me, Commander."

"I didn't think it was possible for me to embarrass you, Mr. Vulcan."

"It's not. The doctor, however ..." The two officers turned to face the nervous young scientist. Junsu was focusing hard on the meal in front of him and trying very hard to look unbothered by their stares.

Yoochun grinned apologetically before replacing Junsu's stolen bread with a piece of his own. "Sorry, Doc. I didn't mean to rile you up. I just like messing with pointy  -ears over here."

"No, it's fine," Junsu said before giving a nervous laugh. "The command on this ship just takes some getting used to. It's more laid back than I expected."

"The captain, Changmin, and I have known each other for a long time," Yoochun explained. He draped an arm around a stern-faced Changmin, who simply crossed his arms in disapproval. "That and this is a small ship heading far away from home. Try and relax a bit before you end up like him."

The scowl the Vulcan shot Yoochun was strong enough to curdle milk. Junsu tried not to laugh at the sight, but in doing so, he nearly choked on his kimchi.

"I told my wife about your new patient," Changmin said, deciding to ignore Yoochun and Junsu's flustered eating. "She's very interested in the potential research opportunities his rehabilitation may provide."

That stopped Junsu's giggles cold. "You're married?!" he yelped in shock.

Yoochun laughed. "I know right? Bless that Vulcan physiology. Grumpy looks like he's the youngest, but he's actually been alive longer than anyone else on the ship."

"No. I mean, he looks old enough to be married, I just thought ... "

The Vulcan simply raised an eyebrow. "You thought?"

"I thought you and the commander were sort of ... possibly ... together."

Junsu couldn't believe he'd just said that out loud. He'd been entertaining the notion of the two being in some sort of relationship since the commander's near-assimilation. But if Yoochun's out-of-control laughter and the scandalized look that seemed frozen across the Vulcan's face (Junsu was three seconds away from jumping up to see if Changmin had suffered a stroke) were any indication, he was way, way, way off.

"I mean ... I just," he began rambling. "You tease each other all the time and ... and, Lt Cmdr. Changmin, you let him touch you — and I've never come across a Vulcan who was comfortable with random physical contact — and he was so concerned when One attacked you."

To his relief, Yoochun brought an end to his awkward babbling with a laugh and rough smack on the back. He grinned brightly before leaning into Changmin and giving him a squeeze.

"Oh, trust me, Doc. I tried."

"Don't listen to him, Doctor; he did no such thing," Changmin retorted, shoving his way out of Yoochun's embrace. "The commander just enjoys making me uncomfortable with his irrational emotional ties."

"See? My cold-hearted baby cares nothing for my emotions; he's only interested in the physical."

"This conversation is continuing to get more inappropriate, Commander," Changmin replied with a glare.

"Yeah," Yoochun began. "Inappropriate, but not illogical. Doc made a few good points. You do let me touch you a lot."

"I've just realized the futility in trying to get you to stop."

"And I was so very worried about you when our guest tried to Borg-ify you."

Changmin rolled his eyes. "You were probably just concerned Lee Hyukjae would be the ship's new second officer."

Junsu grinned at the annoyed look on the security officer's face. Changmin, noticing this, gathered his composure and inched away from Yoochun.

Getting back on topic, he rested his elbows on the table and wrinkled his forehead in concentration. "It wouldn't be that difficult to trace the drone's background."

"Do you have any suggestions of where I can start?"

"We have theorized that he was assimilated as a child. You estimated he was in his twenties, which would mean he was assimilated well before the Federation learned of the Borg. Search through Starfleet's unexplained missing person reports from between 2340 and 2344 and I believe you'll find his family."

"You think his parents were in Starfleet?"

"Can you think of another logical reason for why a child would be brought so close to Borg space?"

Junsu considered that. "No, I can't. Thank you, Commander. I'll check that out as soon as I get back to sickbay."

Yoochun raised an eyebrow. "You're going right back after you eat?"

"I'd planned to."

"Do you have a life outside that room, Doc?"

Junsu shifted uncomfortably in his seat and picked at his meal. "Things have been busy. It's a new crew. I've had to organize the health files, prep sickbay, not to mention One. He's still very weak."

"You spend most of your time locked up with the drone. That can't be healthy."

"He needs a lot of care," Junsu said with a shrug. "I don't mind. I don't know many other people on the ship, anyway."

"It is impossible for you to meet them, Dr. Kim, if you keep to yourself," Changmin put in.

Yoochun nodded. "Changmin's right. I'll come drag you out for a night of poker some time. I'm sure the captain would love it if you'd join us."

"Thank you, Commander. I appreciate your concern." The mention of the captain reminded Junsu of his earlier conversation with One. "Since you all seem to know him the best, do any of you have any ideas about what his plans for One are?" he asked nervously.

Yoochun shook his head. "I'd be surprised if he didn't even know. This thing sort of fell in his lap and I think he'd be happy it just magically disappeared."

"What happens to the drone once we reach Ceti Alpha VIII is out of the captain's hands, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Federation sought to press legal charges against it," Changmin replied evenly.

"For what?" Junsu exclaimed.

The Vulcan looked at him dispassionately. That look was beginning to get on Junsu's nerves. "For his part in the atrocities the Borg have committed."

"He was a drone! He had no control of his actions; he was simply doing what the Collective told him."

"There is precedent, Doctor. Soldiers who have committed murder — even under the direct order of a superior — still have had to answer for their actions."

"'Answer for their ... '" Junsu sputtered. "They — the drones — are all victims. This isn't a matter of simply following orders; they had no control over their own lives. We can't just rip One from the Collective and send him to rot in a Federation cell."

"While I agree with you, Doctor, you may find that your opinion is the minority."

A new panic seized Junsu's thoughts and the sudden urge to run to sickbay, to tend to his patient, gripped him. "I have to get back," Junsu said as he gathered his things. "I ... I have a lot more work to do than I thought."

"Take it easy, Doc," Yoochun said, voice low. He placed a comforting hand on Junsu's arm. "We have no idea what will happen to him. Changmin just has a tendency to jump to the worst-possible conclusion."

"The most-logical conclusion," Changmin cut in.

Junsu had planned for nearly everything for One's road to recovery — medical treatment, psychological treatment, and his social reconditioning — but had clearly forgotten one very important thing. Of course, the Federation and its citizens would push for One's prosecution. There were still too many open wounds, too many lives devastated by the Borg to allow him to expect him to be left alone. Junsu wasn't enough of a legal expert to know of any possible legal defense that could be used to protect the former Borg and the realization made his stomach twist in fear.

Junsu knew he was getting overly invested in this single man's future. His heart clenched as he remembered the pitying words of his captain: This drone is not your brother. Junsu knew that. He knew the chances of finding his own brother out of the billions of the Collective were near impossible.

But ... if by some wondrous happening, in the one-in-a-trillion chance that he'd ever find him and have the opportunity to save him, he was going to make sure he was prepared to save him from anything that might take him away again.

"Calm down, Doctor," Yoochun told him again, standing as he watched Junsu nearly fly out of his chair. "I know you're protective of the thing, but nothing's going to happen to him right now."

"Yes," Changmin agreed. "However we should be prepared for any change in plan. Defense from the Borg is the Federation's top priority right now."

Junsu frowned. "Thank you, Commander," he shot back, tone treading the thin line between curt and disrespectful. He shot off a messy salute before turning on his heel and nearly running out of the mess hall.

"What do you believe caused that?" the Vulcan asked, genuine curiosity in his voice.

Yoochun sighed and grabbed the piece of bread off Changmin's tray with a glare before pushing his chair in. He ignored the frown the other man shot him and took a large bite.

"For someone so logical, Min," he muttered, a few bread crumbs spitting from his mouth, "you're incredibly stupid."

+++

One was not yet adept in reading the emotions of other Humans, but when he woke to find Junsu pacing his office, flustered and distracted, he'd figured it'd be best to leave him be.

Apparently the doctor had come to a different conclusion, however, because as soon as Junsu had spotted him lingering outside the doorway, he'd dragged him in and began pressing him for information that One considered pointless and extremely irrelevant.

"How old are you?" Junsu asked.

"27 Human years," One offered.

"How long were you with the Borg?'

"We do not know."

"Where were you born?"

"We do not know."

"Where were you assimilated?"

"We do not know."

The doctor's mood seemed to worsen with each unanswered question, until he had snapped in frustration. "Well, what do you know?"

"Our designation is One of Five, Auxiliary  — "

"I know that," Junsu groaned. "What else?"

One cocked his head slightly, studying his panicked mentor. "What else do you need to know?"

"Everything! Anything that can help me find out who you are!"

"We are Borg," One answered simply.

"Not anymore," Junsu replied. He collapsed back into his chair and ran his hands over his face. "Aren't you the least bit curious about what you were before that?"

"No."

One watched as Junsu watched him dejectedly. This obsession with his Human self was disorienting to him. Intellectually, he knew he had existed in the world untouched by the Borg, if for only a very short period of time. But that Human — whatever his name was — had lived such a long time ago and felt so incredibly foreign, that it was hard for One to view him as a part of himself. He was Borg, had been Borg, and, despite his disconnection from the Collective, still felt very much like Borg.

"Do you think there could be a clue about your past in any of your implants?"

"No. Our technology simply served as tools. Information is kept with the Collective."

Junsu ran his eyes up and down One's frame, making the former Borg decidedly uncomfortable. "Then maybe the answer isn't in your implants, but in your organic tissue."

"Explain."

Guiding One into his lab, Junsu pulled out his tricorder and began to scan him.

"I don't know why I didn't think about this before. If we assume your parents were with Starfleet, then we should have medical records on file: DNA, blood type, the like. I'll take samples from you and match them up to what's in the records."

"You think our parents were a part of your organization?"

Junsu shrugged. "It's a theory. Stand still, please."

One did, remaining stock still as the doctor circled around him gathering the information he needed. And when the walls of the room began to spin, One assumed he was just dizzy from the doctor's buzzing around. Soon, however, the room began to tilt and sway. He felt the ground shift from underneath him before he fell inelegantly on his behind.

"One!" Junsu shouted in surprise, dropping his tricorder and kneeling by his side. "What happened? Are you okay?"

"We are undamaged." The drone sat up, but was unable to fully stand. "Our energy has run low again."

"So soon? It's only been about an hour."

"We have not been able to regenerate fully since before leaving our ship. We require a regeneration alcove."

"Well, that's going to take some time. Until then, you'll just have to rest in a bed." Junsu reached down to help One up, only to get pulled to the ground when the ex-drone stumbled again.

At that moment, Yoochun came wandering into the small lab, a friendly smile gracing his lips. "Sorry to bother you, Doc, you weren't in the main bay and I just wanted—" he froze when he saw the pair collapsed on the ground. Face darkening, he rushed over to pull Junsu out of One's grip

"Doctor, what happened? What'd he do to you?" He attempted to pull Junsu back and out of One's reach.

"I'm fine, Commander." Junsu replied, shrugging out of Yoochun's grasp. "I'm just having trouble getting him up. Help me get him to a bed."

"I'd rather not touch it."

One looked up from the ground and frowned. "It will not harm you."

Yoochun frowned, bent down, grabbed the drone's thin upper arm and wrenched it to its feet. One hissed in pain before pulling away, but was only able to make it three steps before the dizziness overtook him again and he stumbled to the ground.

"You have to be careful, Commander. He's still healing from the surgeries." Junsu kneeled low and, placing a hand on One's back, helped him to his feet. "I'll help him to his bed. Just wait here."

Junsu disappeared with the Borg and returned quickly, a worried frown pulling at the corners of his mouth.

Yoochun cleared his throat and ran his hand through his messy hair. "Sorry if I interrupted," he offered as he followed Junsu to his office. "I just wanted to make sure we didn't scare you away at lunch earlier. Changmin and I are close, but sometimes I forget how blunt he can be."

"No, Commander, you were both fine." Junsu collapsed into his desk chair with a groan of exhaustion. "He was right. There's a lot more I need to do if I'm going to be of any help to One."

Yoochun gave him a worried look. "I was serious, Doc, about you getting out of sickbay and away from that thing. We play poker every other Friday in the captain's quarters. Want to join?"

Junsu smiled — his stomach fluttering nervously for a reason he wasn't entirely sure of — but tried to hide it. "I appreciate the offer, Commander, but I don't even know how to play cards."

The older man waved his excuses away. "You and I can play for a bit first and I can teach you. But don't stress too much about it, we don't play for money or anything. None of us can beat Changmin and his stone poker face."

A voice over the comm interrupted before Junsu could respond. "Engineering to sickbay, we need medical assistance." The smile disappeared off Junsu's face as he snapped into business mode.

"I'm on my way," he shot back. "Someone probably just hit their head on a bulkhead," he grumbled under his breath. He stood and stretched his tired muscles.

Yoochun laughed warmly. "Has that been a big problem?"

"A few crewmen in engineering like to relax by drinking. It makes them clumsy. I've been meaning to tell the Captain about it. Want to come check it out?"

Yoochun nodded and followed the doctor out as he hurried to engineering, snapping questions into his comm badge.

Neither of them remembered to inform One of their absence.

+++

Captain's log, supplemental: We have approached the border of Federation space and so begins the first leg of our mission. I must admit that our run-in with the Borg earlier in the trip has me on edge and I'm pushing the crew to make sure that we are fully prepared for anything we may encounter. The last thing I want to deal with is another uninvited guest.

Yunho was surprised when he walked into sickbay to find the doctor missing and the bay's only patient pacing the room anxiously, repeating his designation in a growing panic.

"We are One of Five, Auxiliary Drone of Unimatrix 263. We are Borg. We are One of Five, Auxiliary Drone—"

"Where's the doctor?" Yunho interrupted. "Tell me."

The other man turned sharply at the sound of his voice and ceased his rambling. He moved to come as close to Yunho as he dared, apparently getting comfort in the other's presence.

"We don't know. He was gone when we woke up."

Yunho turned to leave before a firm voice stopped him.

"Don't."

"Excuse me?"

"You promised we wouldn't be left alone. We have been waiting for the doctor's return for 17 minutes. You must stay with us until he returns."

"First lesson on social interaction," Yunho warned. "Don't boss around your superiors."

"You promised," the ex-drone pushed, his voice tense. "You promised we would no longer be alone."

"You'll be fine. The doctor will be back soon." Yunho didn't have time to baby-sit emotionally fragile Borg; the ship would soon be entering unknown space and he needed everyone to be in top form. He'd have to talk with his chief medical officer about the amount of time he was devoting to this little side project and remind him of their true mission. "Just stay here and calm down." Turning to leave, he winced slightly when something grabbed his arm so tightly that he was sure it'd leave bruises.

"No," the Borg demanded. "We won't. We haven't adapted to the silence yet. You must remain with us."

"Let go of me," Yunho demanded, a dangerous edge to his voice. It took all his self-control not to fling the other man away, with the knowledge that he'd more than likely only end up dislocating his own shoulder keeping him from trying.

One seemed to falter for only a moment before lifting his chin slightly and tightening his grip. "Only if you promise to stay."

They stared at one another, the silent battle of wills ending when Yunho finally sighed and turned away. One still had a Borg's strength and Yunho knew that he could easily overpower him if he chose to. He snatched his arm away and tapped at his badge.

"Doctor, report. Where are you and when are you coming back to sickbay?"

It took a few moments for Junsu to reply. When he finally did, he sounded winded and annoyed. "There was a small ... uhm, incident in engineering, Captain. I should be back in 20 minutes."

"Make it ten, Doctor." He rolled his eyes and noted the pleased look on One's face. Turning away with a snort of disgust, he began pacing the bay.

He couldn't believe it. Even when they were alone, de-assimilated and injured, the Borg still got their way. He didn't want to be in this room, didn't want to have to be in the presence of his increasingly willful prisoner and the memories he dredged up.

Yunho leaned against the wall and studied the other man. He didn't know whether to be surprised by One's spirit or if it should have been expected. The Borg didn't answer to anyone; overtaking whole planets and systems with the same ease that a Human could destroy an ant farm or bird's nest. Still, individual drones were nothing but mindless zombies. They had no will and lived according to the desires of the Collective.

He couldn't imagine it. He couldn't fathom what it would be like to be no more than a single cell in a larger organism. Disposable and insignificant. Couldn't imagine being so used to having the thoughts of billions of others echoing in his head that he was terrified of his own. How in the world did One even begin to cope?

"What's it like?" Yunho heard himself ask out loud. He mentally kicked himself for the slip, but the other man seemed grateful for the distraction.

"What is what like?"

"Being a drone."

One looked confused for a moment as he searched for the words to describe the experience. "We ... we have not been Human long enough to be able to compare."

"You heard voices?" Yunho prompted. "All the time?"

"Not voices. The Collective. It speaks to all of us, tells us what to do, gives us information. Every moment of every drone's life is guided by the will of the Collective."

"Didn't that drive you nuts?"

"We do not understand your question."

Yunho rolled his eyes. "Forget it."

They stood in uncomfortable silence and Yunho pretended to not notice the former drone inching closer to him. One seemed to grow more calm the closer to him he got. Yunho would have found the action amusing if he hadn't personally experienced how deadly a force One and his brothers could be.

Another question soon burned on his tongue. "Have you ever assimilated anyone?"

"Yes," One answered quickly and without a moment's hesitation.

Yunho's stomach tightened and his jaw clenched as he struggled to stave off his temper. Well, what did you expect? he asked himself. They had figured that One had been with the Borg for the majority of his life, which meant he'd probably assimilated thousands of individuals. The bitter taste of bile burned at the back of his throat. "Do you ever feel guilty about it?"

"Why should we feel guilty?"

Yunho nearly saw red. He clenched his fists tightly and he would have punched One had he not believed that the question was asked out of genuine confusion. He doesn't get it yet, Yunho had to remind himself. He hasn't been an individual long enough to understand the wrongs he's committed to so many others.

Sensing Yunho's growing rage, the ex-drone attempted to explain himself. "Bringing others into the Collective is a drone's mission. Why should we feel guilty for fulfilling that mission?"

"Even if those others don't want it?"

"What they want is irrelevant."

Yunho laughed bitterly. "You don't see the irony of that? People are killed and their lives are destroyed because it's what the Borg want. I can't leave you alone in this room because it's what you want."

"We ... we bring individuals closer to perfection. We take their lives and make them part of something bigger than themselves." One hesitated a moment. “A question, Captain.”

“Go ahead.”

“Do you dislike us?”

“I don’t trust you,” Yunho answered truthfully.

“Because we were Borg and we have assimilated others?”

“Yes.”

"We cannot assimilate people anymore; however, even if we could, we would not try to assimilate you."

That surprised Yunho and he stopped his pacing to turn around and stare at One. "Why not?"

"We have made a deal. We promised to cooperate and we will do anything to avoid being sent back to the brig."

"You're that afraid of being alone?"

The drone nodded. "Yes."

Yunho snorted humorlessly. "Even you don't want to spend time with you."

One frowned, not fully understanding the quip. He studied Yunho a moment longer before raising a question of his own. "Captain, what is your goal?"

The change in topic threw Yunho. "What are you talking about?"

"The doctor told us that Humans don't have a single goal that they all strive for. Every individual has their own. What is yours?"

"Why do you want to know?"

"We don't know many Humans. The doctor said you are a good example of one. We wish to learn more about you."

Yunho shook his head. "I don't have a goal."

One stared at him in confusion. "You have to," he insisted.

"Says who?"

"If you have no purpose to guide you, then how do know what to do with your life? How do you prioritize your decisions?"

"Right now, I just do what's best for the ship and the crew."

Yunho was surprised when One seemed to brighten at this. "Yes, you told us that earlier. You act on what's best for your crew, your Collective. We can understand this."

"Can you?" Yunho murmured, barely concealing the sarcasm in his voice. "So tell me, what's your goal?"

One looked away and frowned. "We don't have one."

"But you have to," Yunho retorted, throwing One's words back at him.

"We had one when we were with the Collective, but we don't know what we can accomplish on our own. Everything seems very overwhelming."

Yunho tried to ignore how small One's voice sounded, but it was difficult. In fact, each time he spoke with the former drone, it became more difficult to not see him for what he was: a hurt, lonely Human surrounded by bunch of strangers. But Yunho couldn't afford to lower his guard. The risks were still much too high.

The lull in the conversation was interrupted by the chirping of Yunho's comm badge.

"Lt. Kwon to the Captain. Please report to the bridge."

Grateful for the excuse to escape, Yunho tapped his badge and acknowledged the call.

"On my way, lieutenant." He strode quickly toward to the double doors of the bay before One had the chance to grab him again.

"Captain," the Borg called out in distress. "You promised us —"

"You'll deal," Yunho snapped behind him. "Remember," he mocked. "You are Borg."

One didn't have long to fret about his solitude because shortly after Yunho stormed out, another unfamiliar man walked in.

He wore a single dark pip on his collar — an enlisted crewman, he recognized — and the gold color of his uniform identified him a member of ops/engineering crew.

Smirking at One, the man glanced around sickbay, popping his head in the rooms and labs off the main bay.

"Where's the doctor?" he had asked without introducing himself.

One had held his tongue, remembering Yunho's order not to speak to his crew.

The man glared at him. "Are you deaf, Borg? I said, where's the doctor?"

Again, One hadn't answered.

Groaning in frustration, the younger man had searched the other rooms of the large bay again before returning to the main room.

"Are you here by yourself?"

He had nodded slowly. He didn't want the other man to leave, didn't want to be left alone again.

The man gave him a grin. Had anyone else had seen it, they would have classified it as "predatory." Without saying anything, he had grabbed his arm and pulled him from the bay. Looking back at One's confused face, he grinned, showing more teeth than necessary, and tightened his grip around his wrist.

"Don't worry, Borg. We'll keep you company."

+++

Yunho was sure he was beginning to tread a path along the corridors of his ship. In the past hour, he had gone from the bridge, to sickbay, to the science labs, and back.

He'd finally settled things on the bridge (nothing worries a group of bridge officers quite like unidentified fatal radiation) when he was called back down to sickbay.

"Captain!" Junsu greeted the taller man. "Sorry I missed you earlier."

"It wasn't a problem, Doctor. One and I had an interesting talk." Leaning against a biobed, Yunho glanced around the room. "Where is your patient, anyway? I gave orders he's not to leave this room."

"Don't worry. Jaejoong is resting."

"Jaejoong?"

"The Borg drone," Junsu replied happily.

"Who picked that name for it?"

The doctor grinned. "His mother. I've been researching his background. It was just a hunch, but I was able to find genetic relatives of his in Starfleet records.

Junsu handed him a PADD with the image of a chubby faced toddler sitting on the lap of a pretty woman surrounded by a gaggle of young girls. The child grinned toothily into the camera, familiar bright eyes shining.

"Both of his parents were scientists stationed at a colony on Caldos II. We found the original crew list of the ship his parents left Earth on. They took with them many daughters and one 18-month-old son named Jaejoong."

Staring into the black eyes of the small child in the photo, Yunho could feel something in his heart break. One had much less baby fat and more implanted metal in his face, but there was no denying he was the child in the photo. It made him a little sick to think that the Borg spared no one when they attacked, not even a helpless infant.

Junsu seemed to pick up on the nature of his thoughts, if the grief-stricken smile he gave Yunho were any indication. "He wasn't just a child when they got him," he lamented softly. "He was a baby."

"Doctor, have you considered that maybe he's spent too many formative years with the Borg to fix?" Yunho asked, setting the photo aside.

Junsu was silent for a moment, hinting to Yunho that he had considered it. "Captain, he ... he's trying."

"Do you think that's enough? Where is he going to go? What is he going to do?"

"We'll find his extended family on Earth and reunite them. He'll survive and he'll get better."

"And what if we can't? Doctor, the truth is that he's not adapting well. I walked in on him earlier nearly having a panic attack because you had left him alone.

Junsu frowned. "That's my fault," he argued. "I thought he'd sleep the whole time. So what if he doesn't like being alone? That's nothing that can be fixed with time. He's been quiet since I came in. Here, let me go get him."

Junsu was gone only a moment before returning to the main room of sickbay, face pale and eyes stricken.

"What's wrong, Doctor?" Yunho asked. He stood and headed into the room before Junsu blocked his path.

"Captain, please. Don't get mad."

Yunho didn't find that all to reassuring. "What is it?" he demanded.

"He's not here.

Chapter Text

"Computer, locate Jaejoong!"

Unable to comply. There is no one with that name on the ship.

"It doesn't know who that is, Doc. Computer, locate One of Five."

Unable to comply. There is no one with that name on the ship.

"Computer, scan the ship for a Borg drone."

Unable to comply. Internal sensors are offline.

"What the hell?" Yoochun exclaimed. "When'd that happen?"

"Why wasn't the drone added to the ship's manifest?" Changmin asked Junsu with a glare.

The doctor avoided his gaze nervously. "He's been added to my patients log. He is still technically a prisoner so I didn't think to add him to the computer."

"Anyone who has come on board has to be listed. It's a basic security measure."

"We don't have time to argue about this, Changmin," Yunho interrupted. "We'll have to split up and scan the ship ourselves." He divided the group into small search parties and ensured an armed guard accompanied each group. He grabbed a scanner and positioned his phaser at his side.

"Be careful," he instructed, "and if you find him doing anything to interfere with the ship's systems, shoot him."

+++

Captain’s log, stardate 45101: I am disgusted to report that the recent mishaps in engineering and system outages were the result of a small band of people unhappy with my decision to allow the Borg to leave the brig. The calculated effort to draw the doctor from sickbay and limit our ability to scan for him has me questioning my judgement and my faith in my crew.

One had been pulled through the ship, aware of the curious stares that followed him. The crewman led him through a dizzying maze of corridors before shoving him into the turbolift. They rode in silence — the other man's hand still holding on tightly to One's wrist — until they reached deck five. He was dragged farther along, into the bowels of the ship, until he was shoved into a small cargo bay.

Cramped with extra supplies, it barely had enough room for the two of them, let alone the small crowd of onlooking men and women who'd been waiting. He could hear voices murmuring around him. The familiar noise of multiple voices speaking provided a small amount of comfort.

"Bastard looks more Human than I thought."

"What the fuck?! Look at its arm! It still has assimilation tubes."

"Don't let it touch you."

"Took you long enough," a handsome young officer said, approaching the man who'd dragged him down to the cargo bay.

"Shut up, Hyukjae. He was forcing the captain to stand guard for him after the doctor left. I had to wait for him to leave."

"What if they find him down here?"

"I took the sensors offline. They'll never find him."

"I thought he'd be bigger," a larger man said with a scowl. He broke from the crowd, walked forward to study One in open disgust before sucker punching him in the stomach. One collapsed to the ground, coughing and gasping.

"Hey!" One heard someone shout. It sounded like the one named Hyukjae. "We got him, we get first hits." Someone grabbed him by the collar and yanked him back to his feet.

Donghae moved and stood in front of him. He stood too closely, and One took a tentative step back. He panicked when he realized he'd been backed into a corner.

"So this is what's under all those implants," the crewman said, eyeing him up and down. He shoved him roughly until One slammed against the wall. "You're not so scary." The crewman pulled roughly at his hair in an attempt to drag him back into the center of the fray . One shoved the hand away. "The doctor did a good job at cleaning you up, huh? Unfortunately for you, he couldn't completely hide what you are."

One looked around. None of the people surrounding him looked familiar. Not surprising, considering he really only knew three or four members of Yunho's crew. The crowd pressed in closer, and One could feel the instinctual urge to run. He knew he'd never make it through the throng of hostile crew members, though. Not in his weakened state.

He was forced out of his reverie when a fist crashed into his jaw, snapping his head back so hard it nearly slammed back into the wall. A loud ringing began to echo through his head and he could feel blood ooze from his busted lip. He raised his arm to shove the man back, only to have two more crewmen jump out from the crowd and pin his arms behind him. He tried to shake them off, but a lifetime of being protected by his Borg technology left him unprepared for a fist fight.

"Fucking look at me when I'm talking to you!" the crewman shouted at him. A murmur of approval rolled through the small crowd. "Looks like you're not so bad when you're by yourself."

He grinned maniacally before elbowing One hard in the stomach. With his abdomen still sore from the earlier hit, One couldn't stop the groan of pain that escaped as he folded over in pain.

"Ha! Listen to that, Donghae!" Hyukjae piped up. "It can talk."

Mean-spirited laughter rolled through the crowd. "Make it say more!" someone shouted out.

"Okay!" Donghae laughed. He pulled One up by his hair. "Come on, Borg. I thought resistance was futile." Another punch to the stomach, then one to the face. One did what he could to dodge, but the two men holding him still overpowered him. He felt the warm trickle of blood as it oozed from his lip and nose.

Donghae slapped him roughly, the crowd cheering him on. "Say it. 'Resistance is futile.'"

One held his lips tightly together, determined not to break Yunho's rule again. The men behind him pulled his arms more tightly behind him, and he struggled against the urge to cry out in pain.

A larger man shoved his way to the front of the crowd. Cracking his knuckles, he looked at Jaejoong in disgust and snorted. "I know how to get him to talk. It looks like the doctor didn't finish removing all its implants. I say we help out."

"Good idea, Kangin," Donghae said with a malicious grin. "If you won't talk, Borgy, we'll make you scream."

The crowd pushed closer and before he could react, hands were all over him. Pulling at his hair, pinching at his skin, and even worse, a few members of the mob were pulling at the remaining implants on his face and in his arm. He could feel a stab of pain shoot up his arm as someone attempted to rip apart the implants surrounding his wrist. He refused to cry out, however. He wouldn't give in to their torture; he wouldn't give them the satisfaction of breaking him.

As more and more of the angry crew surrounded him, he realized he couldn't protect himself. Not without his implants and not cut off from the Collective. He fought back his fear and tears as he also realized he didn't even have a way of calling for help. He was alone in his own mind and no one would know what was happening to him until it was too late. He sunk to the ground, his arms still held painfully behind his back, and tried to curl himself into a ball. Help me, he screamed in his mind, but he knew no one could hear him. He was Human now — an individual — and there was no one he could depend on for help.

"What's going on here?" a commanding voice called out above the din of the mob.

He lifted his head to see Yunho standing at the cargo bay doors, a phaser at his side, and flanked by two security officers. The crowd of onlookers parted as he made his way to the corner of the bay. He looked down at One angrily before turning to confront the nearest member of his crew.

"Crewman," he said, addressing Donghae, "you want to explain this?" He looked over at the two men who had Jaejoong's arms locked still. "Let him go," he ordered firmly.

With some reluctance, they released their grip on him, and he stood to run past Yunho. He wanted out of the bay, out of the small, cramped space and as far away from the leering faces of Yunho's crew as possible. Noticing his agitated state, the captain reached out and placed an hand on his in a silent order to remain still.

"I asked you a question, crewman," Yunho repeated, once he was certain One wasn't going to run. "What's going on here?"

Donghae stood stock-still, intimidated by his imposing superior officer. His temporary bravery had left him, and now all he had was a gnawing feeling in his stomach as he realized what he'd just done to his career. Taking pity, Hyukjae spoke up.

"We saw the Borg drone escape sickbay," he said, lying quickly. "He was heading to the bridge and was going to contact the Collective if we hadn't stopped him."

"That is a lie," One replied, speaking softly. The group looked back at him, many with hatred in their eyes. "He pulled us out of sickbay after you left."

"Captain, you're not going to believe that drone over your own crew, are you?" Hyukjae snapped.

"Watch your tone, lieutenant."

"He's a murderer!" Kangin growled. At Yunho's reproachful glare, he frowned and lowered his gaze in respect. "He's a threat, Captain. To all of us. We're just making sure he doesn't try anything."

Turning back to One, Yunho grabbed his chin, careful of the blood pouring from his lip, and ran a thumb over the bruises forming along his cheek and the black eye blooming over his right eye. He looked out at the angry faces of the crew that had surrounded him. "It doesn't look like he was putting up much of a fight."

"We didn't want to take any chances," Donghae offered softly.

One met Yunho's eyes. "We are one. We are no threat."

"I know. You've told me." Yunho turned to look at the small crowd, making sure he'd noted everyone's name before dismissing them.

"Everyone here will be written up and their actions will be noted on their record. I can't afford to have a fifth of the crew locked up, but you will all be confined to your quarters until I trust you can serve this ship and its guests properly. And take this as a warning: If anyone else assaults the drone, I'll toss you off at the next space station and let you find your own way home, understood?"

No one said anything.

"Understood?" he repeated more firmly.

A few scattered aye, sir's rose from the crowd.

"Dismissed," he ordered. He watched as the security officers at the cargo bay doors escorted the group out. He knew they would inform Changmin of the lockdown and felt no need to follow them out. When he turned back to One, he could see the other man shaking slightly.

"Are you okay?"

"We have been damaged, but the doctor can repair us."

"Tell me your version of what happened."

"Shortly after you left, the man named Donghae came into sickbay. He asked if we were alone, and when he realized we were, he pulled us out of sickbay."

"You're still Borg. You could have stopped him if you wanted."

"We wanted company."

Yunho snorted humorlessly. "Well, you got it."

"We did not know he would attack us. We did not expect that sort of behavior from the members of your crew."

"Neither did I," Yunho commented bitterly. "You must have passed 20 other officers on your way down here. Why didn't you ask for help?"

"You told us not to talk to anyone."

"At least I know you're obedient." Yunho sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "Come on, I'm taking you back to sickbay." He pulled on One's sleeve and began leading him to the turbo lift. "I'm surprised they were able to hurt you as much as they did."

"We were outnumbered. We've told you, we are one. We are no threat to anyone."

"You keep saying that, and I keep having to deal with you."

"We are no threat to anyone, we are no threat to anyone," One repeated, apparently not listening. His breathing began to grow more shallow and rushed as he repeated the phrase to himself over and over again. He collapsed against the curved wall of the lift and slid to the floor.

Worried, Yunho kneeled in front of him. "Calm down," he said, trying to keep his voice as low and comforting as he could. "You're starting to hyperventilate."

"We are no threat to anyone," One repeated firmly. "We cannot protect ourselves, we cannot function as an individual."

"You'll learn. It's not going to happen all at—"

"We want our technology back."

"'Technology'?"

"The pieces you took from us."

"Your implants, you mean. You can't have them. The doctor had them destroyed."

The other man seemed to flare in anger. "Those were ours. We need them."

"We couldn't risk one of your nodes being sensed by a cube. Look, I know you're scared, but you'll have to learn how to adapt to —"

"No!" One demanded. "We cannot adapt. You must take us back!"

"We've been over this. That's not happening."

"We cannot function here. Alone, we are hurt; surrounded by others, we are hurt. We were never hurt by the Borg."

"The Borg," Yunho nearly growled. "kidnapped you as a baby and assimilated you and your family. They also would have left you alone to die on that cube. You should hate them."

"You mean you hate them. You hate us." One swung his arm out and slammed it against the wall. "Why are you helping us?"

"I've been asking myself that, too."

"Then let us go. We have failed. We don't want to be here."

"I can't leave you to be re-assimilated because then the Borg will come after all of us. I don't want you on this ship any more than you want to be here."

"Is this what will happen to us when we reach the other facility?"

"Excuse me?"

"We have not been oblivious to how you and others on this ship feel about us. We have the suspicion that if we weren't under the protection of Dr. Kim, you would have left us to die as well."

Yunho looked away, a faint flush of embarrassment at his own transparent feelings. "Your point?"

"You and your crew think you are better than us, but when it is you who are in charge, you act no better than the Collective."

"Do we destroy billions of your kind?" Yunho hissed. "Do we conquer whole worlds?"

"No, but you hurt us. We never remember being hurt or damaged or —"

"The Borg hurt us," Yunho nearly shouted. "They hurt me! So, I'd appreciate it if you'd shut up about them. Because it's all I can do to look at you and not rip you apart for what they did to me."

Shocked by his words, One gaped at Yunho. Eyeing him quickly, he searched the other for evidence of injury. "We hurt you? How?"

"Enough! We're not talking about this" Yunho stood and roughly pulled One to his feet and ushered him out of the lift. The smaller man stumbled alongside him as he struggled to keep up with Yunho's angry pace. "You're right. This was a failure. You want to treated like Borg? Fine. Back to the brig you go."

+++

Chief tactical officer’s personal log, stardate 45101: Tensions on the ship have been allowed to run unchecked for far too long. As both a friend of the Captain and his second officer, I feel it is my place to bring his lapses to his attention. I just hope that he will listen and realize the logic in my advice.

Yunho remembered the first time he saw Jihyo. He had volunteered to visit his nephew's fourth-grade class for Career Day. He'd strolled in, dressed up in his buttons and brass, and had the wind knocked right out of him by the beautiful sight sitting behind the teacher's desk.

When it was his turn to speak, he may have exaggerated a few of his more exciting missions. Doubled the number of Klingons holding him hostage at the Khitomar space station. Tripled the size of the supernova he out ran on his ship. It worked, however. Before he left, the pretty teacher had slipped him a message to call her.

They'd had dinner the next night. They transported to Japan and went to one of Yunho's favorite restaurants before beaming to France for desserts and wine. He'd asked her to marry him three months later, when she and his sister came to visit him on board his ship. Two hours, he'd realized in the months following Wolf 359. He'd been engaged only two hours before he'd lost her.

The chirping of his door chime pierced the silence of his quarters.

"Come," he summoned.

The door slid open, and he squinted as Changmin's lean form stood outlined in the entryway.

"Captain?" he called. "Why are you sitting alone in the dark?"

"Changmin," he murmured contently. "Come in. Have a drink."

He winced when Changmin switched on his overhead lights. When he opened his eyes again, the stoic face of his friend hovered over his.

"Captain? Have you been drinking?"

"I only had a taste, Min." He sat up and waited for the room to stop spinning. "It's helpful on nights like this. Try it."

"No, thank you," the Vulcan declined. "I've already meditated."

They sat in companionable silence, Yunho watching the stars as they flew by the large window in the front of the room and Changmin watching Yunho.

"Today was not a good day," Changmin said. His tone wasn't accusatory or mocking; he was simply making an observation.

"No, it wasn't," Yunho replied.

"I have recorded the names of all the officers involved and recommended the demotion of the two main instigators."

"Sounds good."

"I also suggest we have Lee Hyukjae removed as a bridge officer."

"Great," Yunho said apathetically.

"What will be done with the drone?"

Yunho took a long sip of wine before leaning back closing his eyes. "As soon as he's patched up, he's going back to the brig."

"Do you think that's wise? The doctor said that—"

"The doctor does not make the decisions on this ship," Yunho interrupted, voice stern. "I do."

"There's no logical reason to lock him up. He has followed all of our orders; it was not his fault he was dragged out of sickbay."

"No logical reason," Yunho repeated. "Except that's where I want him."

"May I ask why?"

"Protection."

Changmin arched a dark eyebrow in question. "Whose protection?"

"My crew ... and his, I suppose. I can't have people beating up prisoners, not matter who they are. If he'd been in the brig where he belongs, none of this would have happened."

Changmin settled on the couch next to Yunho. "May I make an observation, Captain?"

"I've never been able to stop you from making one before."

"You're treating the drone unfairly. You're letting your personal feelings cloud your judgement, and in doing so, you'll end up endangering us all."

This hit Yunho like a punch to the chest. "Explain."

"You lost family at the Battle of Wolf 359."

"Yes," Yunho said tightly.

Changmin sighed before looking Yunho in the eye. Yunho would have accused the other of giving him a pitying look if he'd thought the Vulcan was capable of it.

“Captain, I have known you for a long time and have come to value you as a friend. Because of your scientific background, I believe you are more rational than most Humans. However, you are allowing your pain surrounding the Borg to impair you and your judgement. You don't want to deal with it, so you ignore the drone and let others deal with him."

"I have been dealing with it just fine."

Changmin cocked his head. "The doctor has been making the majority of the decisions on what to do with the drone. All you've done is give permission."

"He knows best."

"No. He knows how to treat it medically. As today has shown, his expertise does not encompass prudent security measures."

Yunho sat up, slamming his empty glass on the coffee table. "Okay, Mr. Tactical Chief, what do you want me to do with it? Adopt it?"

"You should assign him a job."

"A job?" Yunho scoffed. "After what happened today, you want to give that thing more freedoms?"

“He has been on board the Valiant and away from the Collective for nearly a month now, and we have 15 more until we drop him off at Ceti Alpha VIII. We cannot expect the doctor to keep watch over him that entire time.”

“Hence, why we have a brig,” Yunho shot back. “This ship is not here for his entertainment. We have protocols we follow here. Everyone on board this vessel has worked hard to earn their commission. They’ve had to study how Starfleet works, how to command.”

“He does not need to be given rank or command over anyone. Simply a job.”

“That’s harder than you think. We’re busy as it is and we have no one on hand to teach him the ship’s systems, Starfleet regulations —"

“As a former part of the Collective, he would have the assimilated knowledge of thousands of Starfleet officers.”

Yunho’s jaw clenched. To hear how One gained his knowledge of Starfleet spoken about so casually nearly had him storming from the room; but, he was used to Changmin's typical lack of tact and knew that he wasn't speaking out of callousness. What motivated his behavior was still a mystery to Yunho, however.

"I understand the doctor," he began. "He has a duty. But why are you so invested in helping this thing?"

Changmin shook his head. "It has nothing to do with the drone. Incorporating One into the crew is the most logical course of action."

"He attacked you, attacked me, attacked the doctor, and he nearly got pulled apart by 15 members of the crew."

"Ignorance has resulted in both the drone and the crew acting out in extremely irrational ways. I can think of no better way to nip this hostile behavior in the bud than to have the crew interact with him."

"That'd be like sending him to the wolves."

"No one will harm him. Not if he's working under the captain's protection."

Yunho actually laughed at that. "Protection? That's not happening. When I saved him in the cargo bay, he said I treated him worse than the Collective."

"The drone has spent the majority of his life with the Borg. He still values them on on some level and there's only one way you can make him realize the true extent of what he was put through."

"How's that?"

"Show it to him. He still doesn't know what it means to be Human, to be an individual. You can help him."

"That thing is nowhere near Human, Min."

Changmin cocked his head in contemplation. "He was fearful of the aggressive behavior demonstrated by the crew and lashed out at you when you tried to help him. Two illogical emotional responses. He sounds very Human to me."

Yunho sighed and flopped back on the couch. It was pointless trying to argue with Changmin. Or any Vulcan, really. Raised since childhood on the tenants of logic and rationality, they could not be swayed with arguments based on emotions. Even emotions that ran as deep as fear, love, and heartbreak. Lying back on the couch, he turned to eye his friend curiously. A question burned on the tip of his tongue, and he knew Changmin was in the position to answer, thanks to the work of his wife.

"How many Vulcans have been assimilated by the Borg?" he asked after a moment.

Changmin pondered this. "Our government's most conservative estimate is 100,000."

"100,000 people lost because of his kind and you want me to help it?"

Changmin rolled his eyes. Yunho recognized it as something he did often when people tried to take up the futile task of debating him. "100,000 Vulcans and nearly double that amount of Humans lost to the Borg, yet it's a safe assumption to say that you only care about two of them."

Yunho scowled at him, but Changmin didn't offer any sign of appeasement. "What's your point?" he muttered.

"Why do you value their lives more than those thousands of others? Why do you value them over Jaejoong's? He was a child when he was assimilated. It's not like he willingly joined them in their assault. He lost 20 years of his own life and his entire family. He's suffered as much, if not more, from the Borg than you."

"Would you say that if Seohyun had been assimilated?" he spat.

"Yes," Changmin said, unfazed. "Because torturing this drone wouldn't bring her back. Hurting him won't stop the Collective. But, if we listen to him, talk to him, we can learn what we need to do in order to prevent more lives from being lost. It has nothing to do with betraying the memory of anyone. It is simply logic."

Tears of frustration pricked at the corners of Yunho's eyes. Changmin was right, of course, and that realization hurt much more than it should have. "You make it sound so easy."

Changmin's eyes softened, and the faintest ghost of a smile pulled at his lips. "Logic frees us, Captain."

"Well, I'm still bound by emotion, so, what should I do?"

"I guess that depends what you want more: Peace for yourself or suffering for the Borg. I don't think it's possible for you to have both." At that, Changmin rose and stretched his long limbs. "Good night, Captain," he said simply before turning to leave Yunho alone with his thoughts.

+++

The next morning, Yunho went to sickbay to treat his hangover and to speak to his stubborn prisoner. "Doctor, where's the drone?"

Junsu scowled. "Jaejoong is resting and I don't think he wants to be bothered."

"Wake him."

"Captain, he's still shaken after what happened with the crew. He doesn't —"

Yunho shot Junsu a stern glare. "Wake him, Doctor. That's an order."

Junsu's shoulders slumped in defeat. "Aye, sir," he sighed before leaving to retrieve the former Borg. Only a few moments later, One walked in slowly, eyes glued to a PADD. As far as Yunho could tell, Junsu had already healed all his injuries, but the Borg still moved slowly around the bay, the air of an injured animal hanging around him.

"Hello, Captain," he greeted solemnly, eyes never leaving the PADD he held in his hands. "The doctor said you wish to speak with us."

"How are you feeling?"

One spared him a quick glance before shrugging. "The doctor has repaired us. We are fine."

"Are you sure? You seem different today. From what I've heard, you even let the doctor leave you in sickbay by yourself."

"We have begun to see the appeal of being alone," One said quietly. "We are not hurt when we're alone." He fumbled with the PADD a few seconds longer, before apparently steeling his courage and raising his gaze. "Nevertheless, Captain, we ask that you reconsider sending us back to the brig."

Yunho ignored the comment. "What have you been working on?" he asked, tilting his head to look at the screen of the PADD.

The other man frowned, apparently annoyed at having his request ignored, but he didn't comment on it. "We've been learning more about the colony we lived in with our parents."

"Find anything interesting?"

He cocked his head. "It was a research facility with a crew based out of East and Southeast Asia," he recited mechanically. "A complement of nearly 500 geologists, meteorologists, xenobiologists, medical doctors, and other scientists." He paused suddenly, and Yunho watched as a strange emotion seemed to cloud his face before he continued.

"According to the logs we've read, our mother was a chemist and our father was a physician." One's voice grew soft. "We had sisters, too. We weren't alone."

Yunho felt the urge to say something comforting. "I'm sure they're —"

"They were assimilated," the drone interrupted. "According to Federation reports, there were no survivors. They are most likely still alive, but with the Collective."

Yunho hesitated. "I'm sorry to hear that." One flipped through more screens.

"The station was poorly armed and not well defended."

"It was not the habit of Starfleet to treat small research stations the same way we do battleships," Yunho bristled.

"Considering the station's proximity to Borg space, that was ill-advised."

"Well, maybe, the Borg shouldn't feel entitled to assimilate every species and society they—" Yunho stopped himself and waited until he'd regained his control of his emotions before speaking again. "It seems we just keep having the same conversations over and over," he offered with a grin.

"Yesterday's conversation was new. Different." One set the PADD down and turned to face Yunho fully. "Captain, after your crew ..." One squirmed visibly, apparently still unable to deal with his attack. "After ... just after, when you said we hurt you ..."

"What about it?"

"How?"

"The Borg took my family. You took my future."

"Does this still cause you pain?"

"Yes." Yunho's voice cracked.

"Do you ... hate us because of this?"

"Yes."

"Have we hurt you?"

"I just told you."

"No," One shook his head emphatically. "No, have we" — he repeated, jabbing a finger to his chest — "hurt you?"

"You punched me. Remember?"

"Does it still cause you pain?"

Yunho quirked his lips into a small smile. "Not as much."

"We did not punch your crew — we have not hurt your crew — but they still attacked us."

Yunho grew serious again. "They were wrong for what they did, but I can understand their anger."

"We did nothing to them."

"The Borg did. And as you said, you are Borg."

One frowned deeper. "We," he began, stressing the word again, "did nothing to them."

"That's surprisingly individual of you. I hope you remember they are not representative of all of Humanity. And that their cruelty in no way compares to the Borg's," he finished lowly.

One flushed. "Captain, we recognize not all Humans are like those who hurt us.”

"You said I was worse than the Collective yesterday. That seems pretty harsh. Have I hurt you?" Yunho asked.

"What?"

"Have I done anything to hurt you?"

One considered this. "No," he answered eventually. "No, you have helped us."

Moving to stand closer to One, Yunho held out his hand. "Let's start over," he offered. "Truce?"

One eyed his hand warily before shaking it. "Truce?"

"We'll give each other a second chance. I'll forget what happened yesterday between you and the crew."

Hope lit One's face. "You'll let us stay here? We won't be alone?"

"No. I haven't changed my mind about you staying in sickbay."

"Captain, we—"

"Here," Yunho let go of One's cool hand and held out a small PADD. He watched and waited as One clicked through the screens.

"We do not understand," he replied when he finally finished reading all the information.

"I am reclassifying you and have added you to the ship's main manifest." He pulled a comm badge out of his pocket and held it up for One to see. "May I?"

One stared at him in confusion, not sure what Yunho was requesting. He nearly yelped in shock when the other man approached him to pin the badge to his tunic. When he stepped away, One stared down at the shiny Starfleet badge pinned to his chest that matched Yunho's own. He tapped at it, copying what he'd seen other officers do, and heard the quiet chirp of the open comm channel.

"You will wear this at all times when you're on-duty."

"On-duty?"

"I've assigned you a job. You'll serve as the mission's archivist, organizing and maintaining all the data we gather. With your knowledge and experiences, this should be no challenge for you."

"We do not think this is wise, Captain. We do not wish to encounter more of your crew."

"Anyone who bothers you will have to answer to me, as you will report directly to me. Understood?"

"No brig?"

"No brig, no sickbay. An alcove and quarters has been prepared for you near engineering."

Reaching out to finger his new badge, One seemed to smile at himself before looking up to nod at Yunho in agreement.

"There's a catch to all this, One. I don't allow Borg on my ship and I certainly wouldn't allow one to be a part of my crew. If this is going to work, you have to be Human. Understood?"

One's eyes widened in nervousness. "Human? Captain, we don't know how to be Human."

"I'm ordering you to try." He raised his hand to stop One from arguing. "I understand you won't know everything, but I need you to try and understand why we disagree with Borg philosophy so much. You can do it."

When One didn’t reply, Yunho took that as a cue to leave. He nodded before turning and heading for the doorway. “You’ll report for duty tomorrow at 0800 hours. Good night, One.”

“Jaejoong,” he heard the other man mumble behind him.

"Hmm?"

"Jaejoong, captain. Our name is Jaejoong."

“Jaejoong,” Yunho repeated. “Have a good evening.”

“Wait, sir,” One grabbed Yunho by the arm, preventing him from leaving, before quickly dropping his hand. “Why? Why are you giving us this chance?”

"A friend talked some sense into me," Yunho replied. He reached out to straighten One's comm badge. "Remember yesterday when you asked me what my goal was?”

“Yes. You said you didn't have one.”

“I lied. I do have one. It’s to forget. I don’t want to have to think about Borg or what they’ve done to me. Right now, I just want to keep this ship and this crew together. Can you help me do that?"

For the first time since coming on board, One felt hopeful for his own future. He felt useful. He had a job now, a purpose and a goal to assist the ship's Captain with. The overwhelming sense of loss and the disorienting confusion that had plagued him since his connection with the Collective was severed seemed to lessen, if only tiny amount.

Grateful for the relief and excited about the chance to prove himself, he bowed eagerly— copying behavior he'd seen others on board do — before straightening. “Yes, we can do that.”

Surprised, Yunho bowed back. "Good night, Jaejoong."

"Good night, Captain."

 

Chapter Text

Captain's log, stardate 45110.2: It has been an ... exhausting day. Jaejoong — as our new friend has been named — has spent the better part of a day moving into his new quarters and working with Ensign Lee to organize the ship's findings. Personally, I am appalled at how a species could have access to so much information and still know so little.

"Are you sure you know where his quarters are?" Yoochun asked as he and Changmin followed the doctor down the wide hallway, from one room to another.

"Of course I know," Junsu replied easily. He tried another door, only to be shooed away by a rather intimidating looking Klingon crewman. "It's just that Jaejoong's directions weren't that clear. He barely knows the full layout of the ship himself."

“Doctor, what is that?” Changmin motioned toward the small package wrapped in cream-colored paper in Junsu’s arms.

Junsu halted his search. He grinned and held the box up for closer inspection. “It’s a housewarming gift, Commander. For Jaejoong.”

“You got him a gift for moving out of sickbay?” Yoochun said with a frown. “Doc, just how attached to it did you get?"

It is a he, Commander,” Junsu answered indignantly. “And he’s more than just moving out of sickbay; he’s finally decided to embrace his humanity. This is a big step for him.”

“'Embrace' may be too strong a word, Doc.”

“Indeed," Changmin agreed. "'Tolerate' may be more appropriate. Or 'endure' his humanity, 'forced to accept' his humanity, 'be resigned to,'—"

"We get it, Changmin," Yoochun groaned. "Nobody wants to be Human."

"I wouldn't say that. You, for example, seem very happy to be a member of species that is motivated by nothing more than chemical reactions caused by pheromones."

Junsu ignored the two officers' bickering (a skill he was beginning to perfect) and fumbled with the small package. Perhaps it was a bit too much. Could he be violating some obscure Starfleet regulation by giving a gift to a patient who technically was also considered a prisoner? Junsu hadn't paid much that attention to his Starfleet Procedures and Regulations class while at Starfleet Academy. "Do you think it's inappropriate?" he asked.

Changmin gave Yoochun a final disapproving glare before turning to face the medical officer. "I do not pretend to understand the reasoning behind most Human social customs."

"What is it?" Yoochun asked.

Junsu raised the package up happily. "I got the picture of him with his mother and sisters framed for his new quarters."

The older officer smiled. "That's real sweet, Doc."

"Sweet, but unnecessary," Changmin chimed in. "The Borg has no recollection of his family and will have no attachment to seeing them."

Yoochun turned and scowled at the young Vulcan. "Does it ever hurt you to be so damn emotionally repressed, Min?"

Changmin arched an eyebrow in question. "Stating an observed fact in no way causes me pain, Commander; however, I am intrigued. Does acknowledging logic and rationality cause you discomfort? If so, that would explain a great many of your actions."

"There's a difference between being illogical and being tactful."

"Tact, by its very nature, is illogical, Commander. It is a psychological tool Humans use to shield each other from the truth in order to comply with asinine social norms."

Yoochun rolled his eyes. "And logic is a tool Vulcans use to be assho—"

"We're here!" Junsu said loudly, effectively cutting off their discussion. "Those are definitely his quarters." He hurried the remaining steps to the entrance of Jaejoong's small quarters and pressed the chime outside the narrow door. He was surprised to hear the weary sound of Yunho's voice beckoning them inside.

"Captain!" he greeted when he entered the small front room. "I didn't expect you to still be here. Where's Jaejoong?"

Yunho gave him an weary look before nodding toward what Junsu assumed to be a bedroom. "He's taking a look around. We still have some issues we'll need to work out. The biggest is his inability to be left alone."

“Was that a problem?" Changmin asked as he studied the sparsely decorated room. "He should have been working in the labs with other officers all day.”

“You’d be surprised how fast he can clear a room out," Yunho answered with a sigh. "Worse, every time he found himself alone, guess who he’d call?”

Jaejoong walked back into the room, oblivious of the fact that he'd just been the topic of discussion. He acknowledged Junsu, Yoochun and Changmin before approaching Yunho.

"We have a bed," he stated simply standing before the captain.

Yunho suppressed a frustrated groan. "Is that a problem?"

"We don't require a bed. We need an alcove."

"That's over here. Follow me." He led Jaejoong to a small closet off the main room. Sliding open the door, he moved to allow him to inspect it.

Jaejoong looked at the set up, which consisted solely of a wire-wrapped prong extending out of the wall socket, before turning to stare at Yunho in question.

The other man shrugged self-consciously. "What?"

"What is this?"

"It's your alcove."

"This is not an alcove. It's a plug-in."

"Well, it'll have to do."

"You could have asked us. We would have helped you build something more ... suitable."

"Try it," Yunho encouraged. "If it needs to be improved, we'll help you."

Jaejoong looked at him doubtfully, but went ahead and pulled up his tunic sleeve to connect the power conduit in his forearm to the pronged outlet extending from the bulkhead. He felt a sudden surge of energy shot through the wiring in his arm and spread through the rest of his body. It didn't feel as powerful as what he was accustomed to from an alcove back on the Borg cube, but it would be effective. He'd have to regenerate longer than he was used to, however. Seven hours instead of the usual five.

“This will suffice,” he replied. He unplugged himself before following Yunho back out to the main room of his small living quarters. He stared at the three waiting officers nervously. Yoochun ignored him, Changmin gave him a curt nod and Junsu enveloped him in a hug.

“How was your first day?” he asked, handing his gift over to Jaejoong. The other man handled it awkwardly before placing it on a shelf, still in its wrapping paper.

“We worked closely with your bridge ops officer, Lee Jinki,” he replied. “He was noticeably uncomfortable with us, but was no threat. We believe we will do well in our position.”

“That’s great to hear,” Junsu chirped. He grabbed the package and unwrapped it before giving it back to Jaejoong, who looked up at him in confusion. “This is a gift for you. It’s your family.”

“It’s a photograph."

Junsu rolled his eyes good naturedly. “It’s a reminder of your family. I wanted you to have something in your new quarters to remind you of where you came from.”

“That is unnecessary. We’ve read a great deal about our Human parents and do not require a photograph to remember them.” Junsu deflated a bit.

“Just say thank you, Borgy,” Yoochun muttered. He elbowed a visibly smug-looking Changmin. “That’s what Humans do when someone does something nice for them.”

“Even when it is not of any use?” Jaejoong asked him, curious.

“One,” Yunho sighed. “Remember the talk we had earlier this morning about manners?”

Jaejoong nodded before turning back to Junsu. “We thank you, Doctor. We’ll take this photo as an example of your concern for us.” That perked Junsu up and he gave Jaejoong’s hand a reassuring squeeze.

“I have to get back to the bridge, Captain” Yoochun interrupted, barely restrained irritation evident in his voice. “Changmin and I came down to see if you had any orders for the night shift before he took off.”

Yunho shook his head and dismissed them both with a wave.

“I should go as well,” Junsu remarked. He reached out to straighten Jaejoong’s collar before grinning up at him. “I’ve been a bit behind in my own work. I need to get the final physicals noted and logged before we get further in unknown space.”

“I’ll follow you out, Doctor,” Yunho yawned and stretched his limbs. It had been an exhausting day, orientating Jaejoong to the expectations of belonging to his crew and helping his own officers deal with interacting with a member of a species many of them had heard about, but had never seen up close before.

“You’re all leaving?” Jaejoong questioned. He sounded momentarily panicked and Yunho gave a tired sigh. The day could have been much less draining if he hadn’t had to make sure that someone — someone he trusted — was always with Jaejoong.

“Yes," he replied. "We all have work to do.”

“But we’ll be alone again.”

“No. I told you, you can go to any other public place on-board — the mess hall, the officers' lounge, the labs. Any place except the bridge."

Jaejoong shook his head frantically. “That is unacceptable, Captain. We can’t … deal with strangers yet.”

"If you can't handle that, you can always talk to the ship computer.”

Jaejoong gave him a look that would best be described as panicked irritation. "Also unacceptable."

“One— I mean, Jaejoong,” Yunho began, still not used to calling the other by his Human name, “you do realize at some point you’re going to have to learn to be comfortable being by yourself?”

Jaejoong looked around the small quarters, eyeing each piece of furniture and object with suspicion. Yunho felt a small bubble of amusement at the look of utter distrust on Jaejoong's face. He was acting as if the room itself were going to come alive and eat him whole.

"You're welcome to come back to sickbay with me," Junsu offered.

"No, Doctor," Yunho said. "You just said you had work to do. If I'm correct, keeping Jaejoong company is the reason you're behind in the first place." He turned back to see Jaejoong still watching them both plaintively. He could easily see how this power struggle would end up. He was beginning to learn he'd have to pick his battles when it came to Jaejoong, and at the moment, he was too tired to fight this one. His stomach rumbled as if to remind him he was too hungry, too. He supposed it wouldn't kill him to have some company for dinner.

"Jaejoong, I’m going to grab a bite before heading back to the bridge. Would you like to join me?”

"A bite?"

"Food, Jaejoong," Junsu replied. "He hasn't eaten before, Captain."

Yunho turned to stare at Jaejoong incredulously. “What has been nourishing you before now?”

“Our implants are able to create the organic nutrients our biological components require, and the doctor provided us with a nutritional supplement to make up for any deficiencies.”

"Yes," Junsu piped up, "but the implants are not as efficient now that he's cut off from the power of the Collective."

“Are you hungry now?” Yunho asked, giving the former drone a curious look.

Jaejoong placed a hand over his belly and thought. "We aren't sure," he answered finally.

Yunho shared a look with Junsu, who only grinned.

"I suppose that's a good enough answer," the doctor said, making his way to the quarter doors. "Thank you, Captain, for helping him. I hope you two enjoy your dinner." He left quickly, but not too fast that Yunho missed the barely suppressed grin on his face.

+++

Yunho was aware of the stares that followed them around the small dining hall. A few officers were bold enough to glare at him angrily, but the majority of the crowd looked up from their meals in fear.

He was also aware of Jaejoong hovering closely behind him. He was near enough, in fact, that Yunho could feel the warmth of his breath blowing across his neck. He stopped and turned suddenly, causing the other man to run right into him.

“Is there a reason you’re practically on top of me?” he asked.

Jaejoong gazed nervously around the bustling mess hall. He noted the glares and stares of the ship's crew and could feel his heart begin to race in anxiety. While no one appeared to be as hostile as the crew members he had encountered when he was drug down to the cargo bay, the memories their stares evoked were still unsettling. “Captain, we’re not comfortable being in such a crowded room.”

“How can you be afraid of crowds and of being alone?” Yunho scoffed.

“We aren't comfortable being by ourself nor are we comfortable being with strangers. We didn’t know there would be this many people here. We thought we would be eating with only you.”

“You will today,” Yunho replied. “But what about tomorrow? Or the day after that?”

“We would wish to be with you on those days, too.”

Yunho ignored the flush that burned his face. "You won't be able to stay with me forever, Jaejoong," he said quietly. "You have to learn to deal with new surroundings and new people."

Rather than reply, Jaejoong took another cautious look around the crowded room. Still unnerved by the activity of the mess hall, he frowned and took a hesitant step toward Yunho.

Exhausted and more than a little frustrated, Yunho decided to let the topic drop. With a sigh, he led the other man across the room and guided him to the mess hall appliances.

“The replicators can reproduce nearly 20 million food items from more than 40 different planets," he said, motioning to the small machine installed near the mess hall's bar. "Just tell the computer what you want and how you want it prepared."

Jaejoong nodded. “We are familiar with this technology.”

"Good." Yunho smiled encouragingly and waited for Jaejoong to place his order. The other man simply stared back at him in silence.

“Well?” he asked, when it was obvious Jaejoong wasn’t going to speak up. “Go ahead and tell it what you want.”

The former drone fidgeted uncomfortably. “We are familiar with this technology; we are not familiar with what we would want to eat.”

“You don’t know what food is?”

Jaejoong sniffed in contempt. “Of course we do. We have the knowledge of trillions of food items from thousands of cultures. But, that information is irrelevant. The Borg do not eat. We have no idea how to determine what we should eat now that we have to.”

“You’re over-thinking this. Just name something you think you’d like.”

Jaejoong considered this for a moment before looking back over at him. “What do you like?”

Yunho sighed. Personally, he would have liked a spicy hot kimchi stew; however, since he was pretty sure Jaejoong was just going to order whatever he did, that wouldn't have been wise. Eaten too late in the day, kimchi stew sometimes left him with horrible heartburn; who knew what havoc the meal would have on Jaejoong's inexperienced system.

“Computer," he ordered, speaking to the replicator, "baked salmon with steamed vegetables and rice.” A bland choice, but one he felt both he and Jaejoong could stomach. The meal materialized nearly instantly in the replicator bay. He grabbed his tray and motioned for Jaejoong to place his own request. As he expected, the other man repeated his order — copying him down to the cadence of his words.

He led them to an empty table near one of the mess hall's larger windows. He sat and motioned for the other to join him before digging into his meal. Tasteless as the food was, he couldn't deny how great a hot meal felt in his belly.

Jaejoong lowered himself stiffly into the chair and placed his tray on the table with a loud clatter. He studied Yunho in fascination.

"Do you just ... start eating?" he questioned. "Is there no analysis of the meal to ensure that it will meet all your energy requirements?"

"No," Yunho said after he swallowed a mouthful of fish. “Just dig in."

“We do not understand your order.”

"Put the food in your mouth, chew it and swallow it."

Jaejoong studied his food, poking at a vegetable before looking back up at Yunho. “Do you enjoy this?”

“It’s not one of my favorites, but it’ll do. Try it.”

Jaejoong grimaced but decided to comply with Yunho's order. Using his fingers, he picked a piece of broccoli of the tray and popped it into his mouth. He chomped down hard, and in his haste, bit down painfully on his tongue. He yelped and looked up at Yunho, eyes watering.

“Chew carefully,” Yunho warned. "It's important you take your time so you don't choke. Take another bite, but this time go slower."

Jaejoong nodded and picked the baked piece of fish off his tray. The meat fell apart between his fingers.

“Here." Yunho picked up the pair of chopsticks that had been included for Jaejoong's tray. "Use these.”

Jaejoong grasped the utensils awkwardly and positioned them between his fingers, attempting to copy Yunho's skilled hand. The stainless steel chopsticks slipped on the greasy piece of fish and one of the pair slipped out of his hand and clattered to the table. Frowning, Jaejoong picked it back up and tried stabbing at the fish.

“You’re not the most graceful thing, are you?” Yunho piped up as he watched. Jaejoong didn’t answer; instead, holding a chopstick in each hand, he slid them underneath the piece of fish, lifting the piece of meat off his tray. He slowly brought the food to his mouth, only for the fish to slip and land on his lap.

“You’ve assimilated technologies throughout the galaxy, but are stumped by a pair of chopsticks?” Yunho asked with a grin.

“The Borg have no use for such primitive means of acquiring energy,” Jaejoong snorted tossing the chopsticks and his mangled piece of fish back onto his tray.

“Chopsticks may be simple, but —”

“We mean eating.”

Yunho gave Jaejoong a stern look from across the table. “The Borg may have no use for eating, but you do. You’re Human now,” he reminded him firmly. He picked the chopsticks back up and helped Jaejoong to hold them properly. "Try again," he instructed.

Chastised, Jaejoong pouted at him before making another attempt to eat his meal. He decided to try his luck with the vegetables, which looked as if they would hold up better under his rough ministrations. After a bit of fumbling, he was able to pick up a small piece of cauliflower. Concentrating hard on his task, he brought the vegetable closer to his mouth, but right before he could eat it, his grip slipped, causing the piece of food to be flung right at his face.

Yunho laughed, stifling his amusement when Jaejoong shot him a hurt look. The Borg dropped the sticks on his tray before simply grabbing a handful of the vegetables and tossing them back.

"Well, we can't say you aren't persistent," Yunho commented wryly. Jaejoong just looked at him, mouth full of vegetables and eyes full of satisfaction. He chewed slowly — mindful of his tongue — until he stilled and turned to looked at Yunho in expectation.

"What?" Yunho asked, eyeing him in confusion.

Jaejoong attempted to mumble something past the vegetables. It sounded suspiciously like When?

Yunho smirked as understanding dawned on him. "You can go ahead and swallow."

Jaejoong did, making a surprised face as the lump of food traveled down his throat. He repeated the action a few more times, grimacing as his throat tightened and relaxed with each swallow. "That was an ... unexpected sensation," he said somewhat nervously.

"Jaejoong, may I ask you a question?" Yunho rested his chin on his hand as he studied Jaejoong from across the table. "How is it you were exposed to untold amounts of information and technology as a member of the Borg, but here you are not even sure of how to chew or swallow a vegetable."

Struggling with his chopsticks again, Jaejoong stared down hard at his tray as he made another attempt to pick up a piece of his fish. "A lot of the information that you require of us was deemed 'irrelevant' by the Collective and a waste of our time and resources. We have not had as much exposure to it as you think."

"Eating was declared a waste of time? Well, what did you all do when you weren't busy assimilating people and terrorizing whole worlds?"

"Regenerating, analyzing assimilated data and helping to keep the ship in proper order," Jaejoong replied.

"That's more boring than I figured life on Borg cube would be."

"What did you expect?"

"I've never thought too much about the specifics. A lot of torture, I guess."

Jaejoong shook his head. "Torture is a inefficient tool used by Humans and other less perfect species as a means of gaining information. Assimilation is much easier."

Yunho flinched and scowled at how easily Jaejoong said those cruel words. "I think they're one in the same."

Sensing the other's rising ire, Jaejoong set his chopsticks down and frowned. "We have offended you."

"No," Yunho answered sharply, turning his attention back to his meal. "Nope, you just reminded me who I'm dealing with. I'm not offended at all."

"You are lying." Jaejoong frowned and began to fumble nervously with the implant arched above his left eye. "We are trying to be Human, Captain. It's just … there are many concepts we don't understand. Interacting with other Humans has been the most difficult."

"You never had to deal with other drones?"

"There was nothing to deal with. We viewed other drones as another part of the Collective."

"I suppose relationships are easier to manage when everyone shares the same brain."

Jaejoong nodded forlornly, still staring down at his meal. "Individual Humans are confusing to understand. What is acceptable behavior with one, may not be for another."

Yunho looked up and tried to meet Jaejoong's eyes, but they were hidden underneath the fringe of his thick black bangs. "You seem to do fine with me," he offered.

"You are different from others."

"How?"

"You are easy. We can understand you."

Yunho was about to ask just what was so easy about him when a voice interrupted over his comm badge.

“Jinki to the captain. Captain, you're needed on the bridge."

"On my way."

Yunho stood to leave the table, but stopped when Jaejoong grabbed his uniform sleeve.

"Captain, wait," he began.

Yunho frowned down at him. "You're going to have to learn to start keeping your hands to yourself."

Jaejoong nodded in agreement, but didn't let go of his sleeve. "We're not finished eating yet."

"A captain's always on call, Jaejoong." He tried to pull out of his grip. "You'll be fine."

"You promised us," Jaejoong pressed, tightening his hold on Yunho's sleeve. "You promised us that you would help us become Human."

He had promised, he reminded himself, but he hadn't realized how big a job that would be. Especially if Jaejoong wouldn't trust anyone else on the ship, save him and the doctor. Changmin had been right about one thing; the only way everyone — including Jaejoong — would get over their fears of each other was to be around each other.

And speaking of Changmin, he was there in the mess hall, Yunho noted. His second officer stood across the hall, reading notes off a PADD as he replicated himself a cup of tea. Changmin had worked his bridge shift with him earlier that day and was more than likely preparing for a quiet evening to himself. Well, Yunho thought with relief, who else to better help a new individual adapt to society than the man responsible for making him one?

“Changmin!” Yunho called for the Vulcan, motioning with his free hand for the other man to join them. When he approached, Yunho pulled him by his elbow into a seat causing him to stumble inelegantly into the chair. Warm tea sloshed over the sides of his cup and onto the front of his uniform shirt. Changmin looked up to give Yunho a reproachful glare.

“Sir?” he began, his voice ice cold.

“I have to report to the bridge. Please assist Jaejoong with his meal and see to it that he makes it back to his quarters in one piece.”

"Captain, I —"

"That's an order, Commander."

Prying Jaejoong's fingers off his shirt sleeve, he gave his hand a reassuring squeeze before leaving the two men alone. Shrinking into his seat, Jaejoong turned to watch after him as he left.

"Being a nuisance to the captain won't make anything easier for you," Changmin scolded. He grabbed a discarded napkin and tried to soak up the tea that was staining the front of his gold uniform. "He's a busy man." Changmin looked up pointedly and met Jaejoong's eyes with a stern glare. "And so am I."

"We don't wish to be a nuisance to him," Jaejoong said, his tone defensive. "We're simply more comfortable when he's around."

Changmin arched an eyebrow. "You're what Humans call 'attached' to him," he noted. "I'm surprised you picked the captain over the doctor, but I can't say I have a full understanding of Human emotional bonds."

“You’re not Human," Jaejoong observed.

“I'm Vulcan."

“Vulcan," Jaejoong repeated. "Species 3259. We have added your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your species’ enhanced mental and analytical abilities make you prized drones.”

Changmin frowned disapprovingly. “As true as all that may be, I don’t think the captain would appreciate hearing you speak like that.”

"We know," Jaejoong said softly. "We can't be Borg around him. We are trying to change, but it's difficult."

"You seemed to have survived today," Changmin noted. "How was your first meal?"

Scowling down at his food, Jaejoong shoved his tray away. "We did not enjoy it. We thought we would like what the captain likes."

"Food preferences can vary amongst individuals depending on mood, health, culture and previous experiences. It may take you a while to figure out what foods you do enjoy."

"We don't understand what we need to figure out," Jaejoong groused. "Humans eat food to provide their bodies with nourishment. All Human bodies require the same nutrients. It should be a simple thing to figure out what to eat."

Smirking in a most un-Vulcan way, Changmin tossed his wet napkins aside and took a sip of his tea. "You will find that Humans make a lot of things more complicated than need be."

Jaejoong looked up at the officer in gratitude. It was comforting to find someone else on board the ship who was as perplexed by Human behavior as he was. “You are easier to talk to than most members of the crew.”

“I can see why you think so. I’ve observed that Humans are astonishingly inefficient in communications when it comes to personal matters. They often times avoid stating their true feelings or intentions in order to save ‘face’.”

"How have you adapted?"

Leaning back in his chair, Changmin looked around at the dining officers, the majority of whom were Human. He'd be lying if he told Jaejoong he had coped well with being surrounded by members of a species whose philosophy on life differed so much from his own.

"I've had my own struggles," he admitted honestly. "But I believe the key to fitting in is to strengthen your relationships with those Humans you are able to get along with. I value the captain's company very much. And, as frustrating as he can be at times, I also am grateful for Cmdr. Park's advice for dealing with Humans."

Jaejoong sighed and frowned. "That sounds difficult."

"I guarantee it will be."

"We don't need unnecessary relationships," Jaejoong complained. "We just want the captain to trust us.”

Changmin nodded his approval. “A wise goal.”

"How do we accomplish it?"

The Vulcan seemed to eye him with pity. "Human relationships are immensely complicated things. I'm not sure even they fully understand them." Noticing Jaejoong's sad look, he continued. "But ... the captain is a fair man. Let him get to know you and — if you give him reason to — he'll trust you as he would any other person on board."

"How did you get him to trust you?"

"I have known the captain for many years. I would even go so far to say that he's one of my closest friends. But we had to prove to each other that we were reliable, that we could be counted on when we needed each other. We had wait and learn more about each other."

“If we could assimilate him, we could learn everything about him and he could learn about us.” Changmin raised an eyebrow at the near wistful tone in Jaejoong’s voice.

“The Borg are aware that there are other ways to learn from people and cultures besides forcing them to submit to their will? You cannot violate the captain’s privacy and then expect him to trust you.”

Jaejoong flushed pink. “We know that.”

“You will find relationships between people take time to cultivate."

“Can you tell us more about him?"

Changmin eyed him skeptically. "What do you want to know?"

"His full designation is Jung Yunho?" Jaejoong asked uncertainly.

"That's his name," Changmin corrected.

"He is around our age?"

"It's safe to assume you both are the same Human age."

Jaejoong seemed to hesitate before raising his eyes to meet Changmin's. "He has no future?"

"What do you mean?"

"He said this to us after he helped defend us from the crew, when we argued. He said that we took his family and we took his future. We understand the part about his family, but the other …"

"Ah," Changmin said. He nodded slowly and stared into his teacup. "I understand."

"Do you?" Jaejoong brightened. "We've been trying to understand what he meant. Tell us."

"Unfortunately, I can't. That is something you'll have to ask him about yourself."

"Why?" Jaejoong asked with a frown. It was more of a pout really and Changmin noted with displeasure the pace the former Borg drone was learning annoying Human mannerisms. He wondered if it was too late to try and instill the basic tenants of logic in the young man's thinking processes before he became too emotionally compromised. As cruel as the Borg were, he couldn't find fault in their grasp of logic.

"Because, the captain has trusted me to keep his feelings about that matter in confidence. If you want to know, you must ask him yourself."

"What if he won't tell us?"

Changmin shrugged before taking another sip of his now lukewarm tea. "The captain's already told you more about his past than even I expected. You may be surprised how much more he may be willing to share."

+++

"Captain?"

Yunho turned to face his new communications officer, a young Bajoran who had introduced herself as Hyoyeon. “Ensign?” he questioned.

“We’re being hailed, sir.”

“By whom?”

“The message is coming from a colony six light years away at Rigas II. They claim an aggressive pathogen has destroyed all their crops and killed off their livestock. They need food and supplies.”

“Contact them and let them know we’re on our way.”

Yoochun swiveled around in his command chair to gave Yunho a dashing grin. “You see, this is why I joined Starfleet. I love being the knight-in-shining armor.”

“You mean you love attention.”

His first officer grinned cheekily at him. "'Attention' sounds so selfish, Captain. Can't I just love saving my fellow man?"

Yunho grinned at him and shook his head in fond exasperation before flipping through his notes on the Rigas II colony. Yoochun's swagger was to be expected. The son of a highly decorated Starfleet admiral, he'd been flying around space since before he could walk. Exploring new planets, meeting new species it was as much a part of him as his flesh and blood was.

"No one has ever questioned your 'love' for your fellow man," he teased, keeping his voice low. He didn't want the rest of the crew to hear him picking on his first officer. "I heard you've been trying to 'save' the doctor."

"Is that okay?"

Looking up from his work, he wondered at the ambiguous tone of the commander's question. "Only if you're serious about it," he answered firmly.

Yoochun grinned boldly. "Of course, Captain. I'm always serious about love."

"You're in love now?" Yunho laughed.

“I'm always in love, Captain," Yoochun sang. "All this world needs is love. That's how we're going to defeat the Borg it seems."

Yunho frowned. "What's that supposed to mean, Commander?"

"Our friend One of Five has moved out of the brig, into sickbay and now, he has his own crew quarters. Next thing you know, we'll make him ship mascot and give him his own chair on the bridge." Yoochun's voice dropped bitterly. "Not bad for someone who was kidnapping and murdering people only a few months ago."

Yunho was aware of the many officers on the bridge who'd turned — some surreptitiously, others not so — from their stations to see his reaction to Yoochun's words. He met Jinki's worried gaze, causing the young ensign to fluster and whip his attention back to his station. He wasn't oblivious to the mumblings of his crew about his apparent leniency in regards to Jaejoong, but he wouldn't tolerate his own second-in-command throwing them right in his face.

"What and where Jaejoong goes on this ship is my responsibility, Commander," he said after a tense moment. He kept his voice calm and firm. "It would serve you well not to question it in front of the crew. Understood?"

Yoochun had the good sense to look embarrassed. "Understood, Captain. I just hope that thing doesn't betray all the faith you've put in it."

Yunho didn't answer. Instead, he turned to Hyoyeon. "Contact the colony and tell them we're on our way." He leaned back in his command chair before turning back to face Yoochun. "You will lead the away team."

Yoochun nodded. "Yes, Captain." He rose from his seat and made his way to the lift. Before he'd completely escaped the bridge, however, Yunho called after him.

"Have the leader of the colony beam aboard first. I want to to meet him myself and make sure his team is doing a sufficient job at protecting their supplies from further infection." He thought for a moment before looking over at Yoochun thoughtfully. "Have Jaejoong meet us in the transporter room as well, Commander. I think his previous … experiences would be a help down on the planet."

Yoochun opened his mouth to argue, but quickly snapped it back shut when Yunho turned to glare at him. The reprimand in his eyes was clear: Do not ever question my decisions in front of the crew again. The lesson had been noted.

"Aye, sir," he replied. The doors closed and the turbolift whisked him away at a mercifully quick speed.

+++

Rigas II was a small, but prolific colony located on the second planet of a binary star system. The planet was well-populated, full of natural resources and, for the most part, had a mild, temperate climate suitable for agriculture.

It also lay far away from the immediate protection of Federation space, and its people weren't too keen on outsiders. It would be a challenge helping these people, because, while they needed the Federation's aid, they didn't necessarily welcome it.

Yoochun groaned at the list of supplies the colony had requested. It was a dizzying list of dozens of types of seeds for crops; fuel for their ships and machines; medicines and other chemicals. He'd spent the entire evening taking inventory of the ship's own stock of supplies before coming to the realization that it would take days to replicate and replenish the settlement to capacity.

He tapped at his comm badge. "Jaejoong, report to the transporter room."

"Acknowledged," came Jaejoong's quick reply. A few minutes later, he arrived, cocking his head when he saw Yoochun. "We aren't familiar with you."

Yoochun glared. "I'm second in command on this ship. That's all you need to know." He handed over the PADD with the list of supplies needed by the colonists. "How's your chemistry?"

The other man nodded. "We are proficient."

"These are the medications the colonists need. When the head of the settlement beams up, ask him which ones he needs immediately, then get to work creating them in the labs. Understood?"

"We understand."

"The head man is ready to beam up, Commander," the crewman working the transporter informed him.

"Good. Energize."

They watched as the a tall, lean man beamed aboard the ship. He was Human as far as Yoochun could tell; with sun tanned skin and scraggly, sun bleached hair. Dressed in simple farmer's slacks and a cotton button down, the phaser rifle holstered to the side of his hip was the only sign of his role as head man in the colony. As the energy of the transporter beam faded away, he gave a cursory glance at the ship and the two men standing in front of him. Yoochun cleared his throat and moved forward to introduce himself.

"Hello," he greeted. "I'm Cmdr. Park Yoochun and this is Jaejoong."

"I'm Park Eeteuk," the other man grumbled, stepping off the transporter pad. "It's about time someone got here. We've been requesting help for weeks."

"We just received your message a few hours ago," Yoochun frowned.

Eeteuk scoffed as he examined the transporter room. "The bureaucracy of the Federation is no surprise to any of us." He halted in front of Jaejoong and eyed his civilian clothes suspiciously. "Your captain didn't want to waste any other officers on us, I suppose."

The doors swooshed open and Yunho strolled in, still tapping at his notes. "Jaejoong is are more than capable of assisting you," he replied, never looking up from his notes.

"Captain," Jaejoong greeted in relief. "We are glad you're here." Yoochun rolled his eyes.

"Captain," Eeteuk sneered. "Thank you for finally joining us."

Yunho looked up and regarded Eeteuk coolly. "I apologize for my absence, but I'm certain my officers welcomed you properly."

The colonist brushed the comment off with a sniff. “We've exchanged pleasantries. I was just noticing the interesting scars your friend has here,” Eeteuk said pointing at Jaejoong.

“We were assimilated,” Jaejoong stated. At that, a sneer of disgust flashed across the governor's face and his hand went for the phaser clipped to his hip.

“You’re Borg?”

“Yes.”

In an instant, Eeteuk had withdrawn his weapon and had it aimed directly at Jaejoong.

Frowning, Yunho rushed to stand between Jaejoong and the gun. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" he questioned. He was not about to allow anyone to raise a weapon to member of his own crew, especially not while they were on his ship. “You’ll keep your phaser secure while on board,” he ordered.

“What are you all doing with this thing, Captain?”

“He’s a member of my crew and you’ll treat him with the same amount of respect you'd want me to treat a member of your team. Understood?”

“You expect me to work with that murdering piece of trash?”

"Watch your tone," Yunho warned. "He's here, as is the Commander, as is the rest of my crew, to help you and your people. I'll say this again and it'll be the final time, lower your weapon."

The silent standoff between the two men lasted a moment longer, before Eeteuk huffed and lowered his gun to his side. He didn't holster it, however.

"Never thought I'd see the day when a Starfleet captain would defend a Borg," he muttered.

"He's not Borg. He's Human, just like you and me."

Eeteuk laughed cruelly. "There's no way in hell he's like you or me," he spat. "These things are like cockroaches, Captain. If you see one, that means there's hundreds more lurking about."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"Exactly what it sounds like. There are no individual Borg. If he's here, you can bet the Collective will find him and destroy all of you. It's just a matter of time until he leads you right to him."

"We no longer have any connections to the Collective," Jaejoong interrupted calmly.

Eeteuk turned to stare at him, his hatred plain on his face for all to see. "Then who the hell are 'we'?"

Yunho raised his hand in a silent order for quiet. "You've made your objections to Jaejoong quiet clear; however, he will assist my crew in helping to resupply your people. That is, of course, unless you feel like waiting another four months for another Federation ship to make it this far."

Eeteuk glared daggers at the young captain, but not before stealing a desperate glance at the boxes of cargo already stacked nearby. It was amazing the things desperation could do to a man. "Fine," he uttered bitterly. "We'll accept your gracious charity, Captain. But keep your pet on board. I won't be responsible for his ... safety if he were to run into any of the other colonists.”

"Fine. Cmdr. Park will help lead the efforts on the planet. Is there anything else you'll need from my ship?"

Darting his eyes back and forth between Yunho's stern face and Jaejoong's worried gaze, Eeteuk grunted before shaking his head no.

"Good. Crewman," Yunho began, not ever looking away from the sour-faced civilian, "beam our guest and Cmdr. Park down to the planet. The sooner we get started, the sooner we can leave these fine people be."

He turned to leave before the other man could respond. Grabbing Jaejoong by the elbow, he led him out of the transporter room and into the wide corridor of the ship.

“You’ll have to stay on the ship,” Yunho told him. “We can't risk anything happening at the colony.”

Jaejoong nodded. “We understand.”

“Look," Yunho ran a frustrated hand through his hair, "I’m fairly sure you won’t do anything, but …”

“Don’t worry, Captain. We understand that people dislike us. We are beginning to get used to it.”

Yunho gave a sigh. He felt the urge to try and comfort the other man, but he knew it was useless. No matter how ignorant Jaejoong was of Human behavior, he wasn't stupid. "Did Cmdr. Park give you any orders?" he asked instead.

"Yes. We're to go to the labs and replicate medication."

Yunho nodded. "You should get started then. The techs will assist you and I'll come check on you in a few hours."

"Yes," he turned to leave, but hesitated a moment. "Thank you, Captain, for sticking up for us. We hope you won't regret assisting us." He gave Yunho a shaky smile before turning and hurrying down the corridor.

+++

Captain's log, stardate 45122.5:  It's been two days since we were first contacted by the Rigas II colony, and w hile Cmdr. Park and Jaejoong work together to restock the colony's supplies, I've allowed the members of the crew to enjoy a short shore leave. I hope the other colonists on the planet are more welcoming of our presence than their leader.

"I can't believe it's been weeks since we've been off that rocket ship," Junsu said. He stood and stretched, enjoying the warmth of the planet's two suns as they shined down on him. Officers and colonists bustled about the center of the settlement as supplies began to be beamed down from the starship. Junsu had come down as well to see if there was any assistance he could provide the colony's doctor — and cure his own case of cabin fever.

Yoochun laughed and shielded his own eyes from the bright light as he checked his list of what was still needed. "Sick of us already, Doc? I know that tin can gets stuffy sometimes, but we were only up for a couple of months."

Junsu wrinkled his nose. "It felt longer. I hate space. Give me rocks and dirt any day."

Yoochun chuckled. "You must have been real upset when you learned Starfleet was based in space."

"I knew. My brother never stopped talking about it. He wanted to be a pilot before deciding that space would be more exciting. I was supposed to look after him." He kicked at the ground, scuffing his shiny black uniform boots. "Guess I didn't do too good a job, huh?"

"Don't blame yourself for being unable to stop the Borg."

"I can blame myself for being too chicken to follow after him. If I had entered Starfleet as an officer instead of a doctor, I could have been with him on the Melbourne when it was attacked. He wouldn't have had to face it alone."

"Then where would you be, Doc?" Yoochun asked seriously.

When Junsu didn't answer — instead running his eyes past the stacks of boxes of food and medication that stood taller than him — Yoochun decided to let the topic drop. He would make sure to keep an eye on their young doctor, however. Yoochun had been around Starfleet long enough to see what regret and grief could do to a man. The doctor seemed level-headed enough not to do anything rash; but then again, he'd thought the same thing about many officers he'd known, some of whom decided to end their own pain by aiming a phaser at their head.

"Where's Jaejoong?" Junsu asked suddenly, interrupting Yoochun's mournful contemplations. "I bet this settlement is a lot like the one he lived in with his parents. He should come see this."

"The colony's leaders seemed to suggest that it would be in his best interest to not step foot off the ship."

"You can't be serious? He— we're all here to help and they have the nerve to make threats?"

"I'm surprised you're surprised, Doctor. You've seen how rough a time he's had on the ship."

Junsu frowned again. "They terrified him, Commander. It was uncalled for."

"You really care about that thing?"

"It kind of comes with the territory," he said with a sheepish grin. "You bring someone back from the brink of death and you start to get a little invested in their well being."

"Is that all it is?"

"He's a good kid. A little lost. Confused, maybe."

"He's not a kid," Yoochun said gently. "He may not understand us, but he's not stupid or innocent, Doc."

Junsu went silent again and Yoochun turned to see him looking up at the deep purple of the planet's sky. He sighed to himself. He and the doctor needed some new topics of conversation. Conversations about about Jaejoong and the Borg usually end with Junsu brushing Yoochun off.

"Come on, Doc," he began again, voice bright. He came closer to the other man and knocked their shoulders together playfully. "Tell me something about yourself that has nothing to do with killer aliens, your patients or medicine."

"There really isn't much to tell," Junsu shrugged. "I was born in the capital of the United Korean Peninsula."

"As were a lot of the people on board," Yoochun said with a grin.

"I have two parents back on Earth."

"Again, as do most of the people on board."

Junsu flushed. While he wasn't the most socially adept person on board, that didn't excuse why he always found himself sounding like some kind of naive idiot when he was with the commander.

"I sing," he blurted out finally. That got the officer's attention and he turned to smile brightly at Junsu.

"Really?" he drawled. "Are you any good?"

"Not really, I mean, I'm okay, I guess. I studied music a bit early in school before deciding to switch to medicine."

"That's a big change."

"I did it for my brother."

Yoochun sighed to himself and gave the doctor a rueful grin. It seemed that they could only converse for only so long before they ran into one painful topic or another.

"Well, I'd like to hear you sometime," he offered gently.

"We could arrange a ship-wide talent night," Junsu said with a laugh.

"I wouldn't mind that at all. It'd be nice to see you outside of that medical lab coat." He leaned close, the air between them growing warm as a bright pink blush bloomed across Junsu's cheeks.

"I don't look all that different," the doctor sputtered.

"Doctor," a voice interrupted harshly. Yoochun jerked straight and Junsu's face flushed a deeper shade of pink before they both whipped around to find Changmin approaching them.

Eyes widening in concern, the young officer came closer to study Junsu's face. "Doctor, your face is extremely red. Are you ill?"

"No!" Junsu squeaked, taking a step back from Changmin's penetrating gaze.

"Have you been overexerting yourself?"

"Changmin!" Yoochun said before Junsu could answer. "Why are you here?"

"I came to see if the doctor needed assistance. I didn't expect to fine him in need of aid himself."

Yoochun rolled his eyes. "Don't you have some security stuff you could be doing?"

"No."

"Well, Commander, I'm giving you some. Go check in with the ship and make sure there are no incoming hostile ships."

Changmin raised an eyebrow in confusion. "Are you expecting there to be any hostile ships, sir."

"Do it," Yoochun snapped. "That's an order."

Changmin's eyes darted back and forth between his fuming superior officer and the ship's doctor, who seemed intent on looking everywhere but him. "Yes, sir," he answered after a few moments. "I'll report back to you with my findings."

"Never mind that. Give your report to the captain."

"Aye, sir," Changmin said skeptically. "Would you like for me to find you when I'm finished?"

"No, Commander. Just go. Now!"

Changmin gave a nod of assent and turned away with a final look between the two flustered men.

Humans, he thought with irritation. It's a miracle their species ever concentrated on anything long enough to achieve warp flight.

+++

Human ships were so poorly designed, Jaejoong reflected as he made his way down one twisting corridor to another. Highly inefficient. He turned down another hallway and was frustrated to find there was nothing on this level of the ship but crew quarters.

"Jaejoong to the captain," he began, tapping at his badge. "Where are you?"

There was no answer. He fought against his rising panic. He is on the ship, he reassured himself. We are not alone. The captain is on the ship.

If only he could figure out where.

“Computer, where is the captain?”

Captain Jung is on the bridge.

That would be a problem. Jaejoong wasn't allowed there. “Where’s that?”

The bridge is located on deck one.

"Show us how to get there." Panels located in the walls of the corridor began to blink and a single arrow flashed pointing him in the direction of a nearby turbolift. He boarded and felt as the lift carried him to the uppermost deck of the ship. When the doors opened, he looked out at the brightly lit bridge of the ship. A large view screen stretched from the floor to the ceiling in front of the helm station. Sitting alone, tapping away at the helm station's screen was Yunho.

At the sound of the opening lift doors, he swiveled around in the chair and frowned disapprovingly at Jaejoong.

“I thought I told you that you weren’t allowed up here," he snapped.

Jaejoong looked at him innocently. “You said we weren't allowed on the bridge. And we are not on it; we’re on the turbolift.”

"You knew what I meant."

"We were alone. We needed to find you."

Yunho shook his head. "Well, you found me." He stood up from the helm and walked past his command seat to the security station near the back of the bridge. Jaejoong watched as he continued his work, traveling from station to station and noting the data.

Annoyed at the feeling of eyes following his every move, he turned to Jaejoong. “Are you really going to just stand there and watch me?”

“There’s no one else to watch.”

“Isn’t there something else you could be doing? Regenerating? Working?”

“We have completed both. The lab techs have beamed down to the surface with the medications we replicated.”

With a sigh, Yunho ran a hand across tired eyes and waved Jaejoong over. “Well, come help me with this then instead of just staring.”

Jaejoong stepped off the lift hesitantly and slowly made his way across the small bridge. “What are you doing?”

“Basic diagnostics. We’ve been in space for a couple months now. I just want to make sure everything is holding up.”

“Wouldn’t it be more efficient to have members of the crew do this?”

“Maybe,” Yunho looked up and gave him a grin. “But sometimes it’s fun to go and mess with things myself. I don’t get many opportunities to work with the ship.”

"These tests seem uneventful, Captain. We don't understand how you can enjoy them."

"Really, Jaejoong? I would think this would be the one aspect of Humanity you'd understand. An appreciation for technology. This ship is our home. It allows us to travel and see things we'd never be able to see. It can be ... humbling to be allowed to play with something so powerful."

"This technology is not made to be recreational, Captain," Jaejoong scolded. "They are sensitive tools that should not be 'played with.'"

Yunho chuckled and gave Jaejoong a rare playful smile. "Understood, sir," he teased. "It was just a saying, Jaejoong. But in my defense, do you even understand the concept of entertainment?"

For just a moment, Jaejoong felt as if he should have been bothered by the comment. He had been Borg, a member of one of the most powerful and knowledgable species in the galaxy, and this mere Human was questioning his understanding of a concept as basic as pleasure. But the look that had flashed across Yunho's face, the way his normally stern face seemed to relax and the ease of which he spoke to him was enchanting. He'd never felt more comfortable on the ship than he did at that moment, sitting on the bridge, examining an ops station with the crew's commanding officer.

"We enjoy things, Captain," he replied instead.

"Oh, really? Well, tell me what you've come across that you enjoy?"

"Working."

"How very Borg of you," Yunho said with a smirk.

"Working makes us feel productive. We enjoy that feeling."

"That's a good reason."

"And we enjoy the doctor's voice. It helped us cope when we were first disconnected from the Collective."

"Understandable. Is there anything else?"

Jaejoong studied the grinning face of the man in front of him. His enhanced senses could pick up on his relaxed heart rate and his calm breathing. Those responses were much different than the typical fearful reactions he generated from members of the crew. Yunho was treating Jaejoong the same way he did other members of the crew; he was treating him like he was Human. He'd even called him such when the angry colonist had balked at his presence in the transporter room.

"You, Captain," he said suddenly. "We enjoy being with you."

Yunho looked up at him, a startled expression on his face. It was inexplicable, really, this man's near dependency on him, and he still wasn't used to Jaejoong's habit of speaking so honestly. He frowned as he considered this.

Jaejoong fretted, resenting the fact his words had chased away Yunho's easy demeanor so quickly. He'd never understand Human interactions, he lamented to himself. "Was that a bad answer?" he questioned.

Taking a moment to collect his thoughts, Yunho shook his head. "No, not bad. Just ... interesting."

"Humans can enjoy people," Jaejoong offered in defense. "We read this in the information the doctor has provided us and have spoken to your second officer about it as well. This is what friendships are based off of. Humans form friendships with people they enjoy being around."

"Yes, Jaejoong. Friends are people that you like."

"What kind of person do you like?" Jaejoong asked. "Do you like us?"

Yunho wasn't comfortable with the level of attention Jaejoong was beginning to show him. It wouldn't do for him to be so attached to him, not when he'd be leaving for Ceti Alpha VIII in a little more than a year. "Why are you so interested in what I like and what I do?" he questioned. "You barely even know me."

Jaejoong cocked his head as he considered the question. "You are our favorite Human and we are learning about Humanity. Whom else should we be interested in?"

Yunho couldn't fight the blush that rose to his cheeks. "Favorite?" he repeated. "That's ... um, surprising. What about the doctor?"

"We like him, too," Jaejoong replied after a moment. "We just like you more."

Yunho dropped his gaze, appearing to be more interested in the computer's system analyses popping up on his monitor screen than the uncomfortably blunt confessions of his newest crew member. He couldn't stop himself from finding out more, though. "That doesn't make sense. The doctor has done much more for you than I have," he reminded him.

"We know, Captain," he answered softly. "But, you intrigue us. We've hurt you, but you still help us and protect us. You're kind to us. After our incident with your crew, we appreciate this even more. We like the doctor, but he studies us like a science experiment. You don't."

"The doctor just has a lot of hopes pinned on you, Jaejoong."

"You don't?"

Yunho shook his head. "Not the way he does. He wants you to succeed in regaining your humanity because he's worried about how well he'll be able to help his brother if he ever finds him."

"Why do you want us to succeed?" Jaejoong asked, eyes curious.

That stumped Yunho. He'd never really given much consideration to Jaejoong's future progress as a Human. He didn't really even know what 'success' for him would mean.

"I'm not sure I do," he said softly. Jaejoong gave him a wounded look. "What I mean is, I don't think I know why myself."

Jaejoong stared at Yunho in confusion. "Then why are you helping us?"

"I'm not entirely sure," he admitted. "Maybe because ignoring you wasn't working."

Jaejoong frowned. "Why would you want to ignore us?" Yunho looked up at him, a meaningful look in his eyes, and gave no answer. "Because we hurt you," Jaejoong said, answering his own question. "Everything comes back to the fact that we hurt you." He looked away.

“Well, you didn't specifically," Yunho offered somewhat lamely. "Jaejoong, I've been meaning to ask, what's the reason you refuse to use the word ‘I’?”

“We do not refuse. We still don’t fully understand the word.”

“‘I’,” Yunho began. “You use it when you’re referring to your individual self, your own wants and needs.”

“When would we ever do that, Captain? We were a part of the Collective, and now we are a part of this ship. Our individual wants and needs are irrelevant.”

"No, not at all. You have a life that is yours now, Jaejoong. You can make your own decisions on what to do with it, who to keep company with, what to eat, what you enjoy." Flicking through the data screens, he kept one eye on Jaejoong as he talked. "Like me for instance. I'm Jung Yunho. I'm 28 years old. I'm captain of the USS Valiant. But, I'm also a scientist. I like Korean, Japanese and Italian food. I enjoy music. I'm my parents' only son and I have—" he stopped abruptly, a look of sadness flickering across his face before he met Jaejoong's gaze and smiled sadly.

"What?" the other asked.

"Nothing. I would have normally said 'I have a younger sister,' but I don't. Not anymore."

"Because of us?"

Yunho nodded. He turned back to the flashing monitors of the ops station, hoping the burning sensation in his eyes would pass quickly. It took a moment, but he quickly got his emotions back under control. He could feel the weight of Jaejoong watching him as he resumed working.

“You’re staring again.”

Jaejoong fidgeted. “We want to ask a question, Captain, but we aren’t sure we should ask it.”

“Why not?”

“Because we don’t wish to cause you pain.”

Yunho looked over to see Jaejoong looking at him with worried eyes. “A question can’t hurt me too badly," he reassured him. "Go ahead.”

“You said the Borg hurt you. Took away your future. What did you mean?”

The other man didn’t answer right away and the silence stretched for so long that Jaejoong assumed that Yunho was going to ignore the question. He jumped slightly when Yunho began to speak.

“They killed my fiancée,” he said plainly. “The woman I was going to marry.”

“But you were not killed.”

“No, I was not killed. But I had always wanted to get married, Jaejoong,” he answered with a sigh. “When I first met Jihyo, I could picture our life together so clearly: We'd get married, have children, grow old together." He paused to take a shaky breath. "But then she was gone, blown up by a single Borg cube. And now …” he shrugged and his voice grew softer “now, I don’t know what to do. It took me so long to find someone, to find her, but now I’m alone again.”

“We are also alone, Captain,” Jaejoong murmured quietly. “We understand. It’s difficult to adapt.”

Looking up quickly, Yunho wanted to retort that there was no way Jaejoong could understand what he'd gone through. He'd barely been Human long enough to fully understand what he'd even lost, much less be able to relate to Yunho's pain. The accusation died on his lips as he watched Jaejoong fiddle with the technology on his wrist nervously. As awful a family the Collective probably was to Jaejoong, they were all he had known. And now they were lost to him. Worse, the implants that still remained in his skin — and the way of thinking that still prevented him from seeing himself as his own person — would only serve to keep him isolated from Humans, as well. Not an actual Borg, but not quite Human. He was, in fact, all alone.

"Yes, it was difficult," Yunho replied.

"How did you handle it?"

"Not well. I was a mess for months after,” he continued. “I was half dead, working during the day and drinking myself into a stupor at night. Changmin was the only one who knew what was going on.”

"No one else knew that you were suffering?"

"No. Everyone else I knew — my parents, my fiancee's family, friends from Starfleet — they were all mourning their own losses. It was easy to hide my pain from them."

Jaejoong sighed and looked away. "That's what scares us most about being Human, Captain. We could be in trouble or in pain, and no would know because we would be alone."

"That won't happen."

"It happened in the cargo bay. They would have hurt us if you hadn't come."

"But I did come," Yunho reminded him. "And someone came to help me before it was too late, too."

Jaejoong's brow furrowed in concern. "'Too late?'"

“When things were at their worst, I used to think how much easier it would be to just take a shuttle and fly it into the nearest Borg cube. I'd end my own pain and take a few of the bastards I hated out with me.”

“What stopped you?”

“Changmin pretty much told me how big of an embarrassment my ‘overly emotional histrionics’ would be to the memory of Jihyo and the rest of my family, and how happy I should be to have survived. He has a way of making me feel guilty for any display of humanity." Yunho shrugged before continuing. "He also made me realize it wouldn't have worked. The Borg would have stopped my shuttle and simply assimilated me before I would have been able to do any damage."

"He is correct." Jaejoong watched as Yunho continued his work and noted the other man's depressed mood. Awkward and uncomfortable with the turn in the tone of their conversation, he searched his mind desperately for something to say that would bring the smile back to his face.

“We would never have assimilated you, Captain,” he said after a moment.

Yunho gave a pained laugh and shook his head. “You might not have, but One of Five would. You would have done whatever the Collective told you to do. We both know this.”

Jaejoong frowned. The image of Yunho assimilated — his skin ashen and Borg technology embedded in flesh — flashed in his mind's eye, causing him to shiver in disgust. To picture the other, who'd he only known as Human and wholly independent, as an unwilling conquest of the Borg nearly made him ill.

“We … the Collective would order us to assimilate you, but we would resist. We would hate them for forcing us to do it.”

“As much as I appreciate that, Jaejoong, that wouldn't have stopped them. What you want doesn’t matter. You and I don’t matter. That is why we have to find a way to defeat them.”

Jaejoong felt a heavy dread in the pit of his stomach as realized the truth of Yunho's words. For decades, he’d followed the will of the hive mind because he had known no better, had no will of his own. He’d only been left on his own with his fledgling humanity for six weeks, but, surprising even himself, he’d come to treasure parts of it. Like, for instance, the opportunity to sit alone with another person and to have all their attention solely on him.

“We don’t know how that’s possible, Captain,” he said finally in a near whisper.

"I don't either," Yunho admitted sadly. "But, we can't let that stop us from fighting. And who knows? Maybe you know something that may help."

He knew something, all right. He, more than anyone on the ship, knew of the crushing power the Collective wielded. The technology they possessed was nothing compared to the power they had over trillions of unfeeling drones. Even if it weren't Jaejoong, another drone could easily assimilate him, unaware and uncaring of how important he was to this ship. To Jaejoong.

He sat and allowed Yunho to work in silence as he wracked his mind for something, anything, he could say that would provide some sort of hope, but it was then, as he searched his own mind, that he was aware of a familiar voice.

Or rather, voices.

Scanning grid 888. Negative.

"Captain, do you hear that?" he asked, panicked. He jumped up, away from the ops station and searched the bridge desperately. He rushed over to the communication station, hoping that some signals were merely crossed and the ship was simply picking up static.

"Hear what?"

Scanning grid 889. Negative.

"Where are we?" Jaejoong nearly shouted.

"What are you talking about?" Yunho rose to follow Jaejoong as he paced the floor frantically. "You're on the bridge."

Scanning grid 890. Negative.

"No," Jaejoong demanded. "We, we." He flailed his arms, motioning toward the ship. "What grid are we in?"

Yunho ran over to the navigational controls at the helm. "We're in grid 891. Why?"

Scanning grid 891. Target found.

"We have leave!" Jaejoong insisted. "We must leave now!"

"Jaejoong," Yunho ordered. "What's going on?"

We have found the Federation starship USS Valiant. Present location: Grid 891 at 233-mark-124. We will pursue and assimilate.

He had heard variations of this phrase thousands of times in his lifetime, but for the first time ever, the words caused him shake in fear.

"Jaejoong?" Yunho turned to see the other man staring off into the distance, a stricken look on his face. "Jaejoong!" he repeated, shaking him slightly. "What's wrong?"

Jaejoong turned to face him, eyes wide. He cocked his head slightly, giving Yunho the impression he was listening to some far away voice. "They're coming," he said softly.

"Who's coming?"

"The Borg, Captain."

Yunho's stomach dropped and his blood ran cold with fear. "You can hear them again?" he asked, backing away.

"No," Jaejoong answered quickly. "But we can ... sense the Collective. They know the Valiant's here, Captain. And they're coming for it."

Chapter Text

It had taken less than 20 seconds for the people on the planet's surface to beam back on board.

"Red alert," Yunho ordered when his grim-faced crew made it to the bridge. He guided Jaejoong to a spot where he wouldn't be in the way as he took his place in his command chair. "Yuri, get us out of here. Any heading."

The helm officer nodded quickly and began laying in a course.

"Captain, the Rigas II colony is hailing us," Hyoyeon reported.

Yunho sighed. He doubted the colony's brusque leader had anything informative to say. "Put it through." The image of the scowling man popped up on the large view screen.

"What the hell is going on, Captain?" Eeteuk raged. "Your people weren't done down here."

"We've learned the Borg are on their way to these coordinates. Get everyone to safety."

At those words, Eeteuk's face froze in fear. "You're just abandoning us?"

"The Borg are still on their way, Park. Would you rather we stop them or wait for them to land on the planet before we try fighting them off?"

Eeteuk fumed slightly and motioned to someone off-screen. Before ending the message, he looked back and Yunho and smiled bitterly. "What did I tell you, Captain? Like a cockroach. If any of my people are harmed because of that bastard, I'll have your commission." The message cut off before Yunho could reply.

"Personally, I wouldn't be too upset if the Borg took him," Yoochun piped up. He and Changmin were hunched over the tactical station, heads close together as the worked to modify the Valiant's weapons systems.

"Me either," Yunho said under his breath.

"The Borg will not be interested in their colony," Jaejoong offered softly. "It's not technologically advanced enough."

"But it seems we are." Yunho turned in his chair. "Got anything, Ensign?"

"Long-range sensors have picked up the Borg cube, Captain," Jinki reported. "They'll be here in less than five minutes."

"Jaejoong, which direction are they coming from?"

The other man stood stock still, head cocked to the side, as he listened for the Collective.

"We ... we aren't sure, Captain. They are coming for this ship, though."

"That's enough for me." He turned in his chair and nodded at Yuri. "Lieutenant, you have my permission to push the engines as hard as you're able. Just get us out of here as fast as you can. "

Out of the corner of his eye, Yunho saw Jaejoong turn and bolt toward the turbolift. He shot up from his chair and grabbed his wrist before he could go too far.

"Where are you going?"

"We don't want to be here, Captain."

“But you're needed here.”

“Captain, we don’t think— ”

“That wasn’t a request. You will stay here and assist us. Understood?”

They stared each other down, Jaejoong's eyes pleading for Yunho to let him go. When it was obvious Yunho wasn't going to give in, he pulled his arm free and turned back to face the front view screen.

“Understood,”Jaejoong he answered, voice shaky.

Nodding his approval, Yunho took his place back in his command chair.

"The cube is now in visual range, Captain," Jinki informed him.

"Put it on screen." A moment later, the blackness of space filled the large viewer. At the center, a Borg cube could be seen hurtling past the surrounding stars. From what Yunho could tell, at the speed they were traveling, they'd catch up with their tiny ship in a matter of minutes.

"They're hailing us," Hyoyeon spoke up.

"Gee, I wonder what it could say?" Yoochun groused. "Play it."

Static whined over the ship's speakers before the forboding (and increasingly familiar) greeting piped through.

We are the Borg. Lower your shields and power down your weapons. Prepare to be assimilated. Resistance is futile.

"I'm getting real tired of being told that," Yoochun mumbled.

The message began playing again and Yunho motioned for Hyoyeon to cut it off. When he turned to look at Jaejoong, the former drone was staring at the view screen, his mind miles away, and was silently mouthing along with the disembodied voices.

"Jaejoong," he called, a warning edge to his voice. "Ignore them!" The other man either didn't or couldn't hear him; instead his entire being seemed entranced by the presence of the incoming ship. Yunho jumped up from his chair and stalked over to where he stood.

“Jaejoong, listen to me," he grabbed the other man by his shoulders and forced him to meet his gaze. He didn't attempt to hide the fear in his eyes or the shaking of his hands. "We need you. I need you! If you don’t help us, they will board this ship and they will assimilate us. All of us: Dr. Kim, Changmin, me, you. Everyone. You’ll be taken back to the Collective; you’ll lose every bit of your humanity you’ve gained back.” Yunho saw a flicker of panic flash through the former drone’s eyes before quickly disappearing underneath his dispassionate facade. “You have to do anything you can to help us,” he finished, nearly begging.

Jaejoong looked around the bridge as anxious crew members hurried to help defend the ship. Gathering his courage, he stood taller and looked Yunho in the eye. “We'll try our best."

Yunho gave his shoulders a squeeze. "That's what I like to hear." He directed Jaejoong toward the tactical station. "See what you can do to assist Lt. Cmdr. Changmin. If you know of anything that can give us an advantage, tell him."

Jaejoong stood, peering over Yoochun's shoulder as he studied the ship's defense capabilities. It wasn't enough, he realized. Their defenses, their weapons, there was nothing they could do, no setting they could change that the Collective wouldn't be able to adapt to. To defeat. He looked up to see Yunho watching him from his command chair.

He'll be Borg, Jaejoong thought with dread. And the very idea of it nearly caused him to double over in anguish right where he stood.

"They're in weapons range," Changmin said calmly, and a moment later, the deck shook from the impact of the Borg fire. "Our shields are down 78 percent. No other damage to the ship."

Before Yunho could order him to return fire, the cube fired three more phaser shots. Yunho gripped the arms of his chair tightly in an effort not to get thrown from his seat. Come on, Jaejoong, his mind begged. Do something!

"We're now at 42 percent," Changmin reported again. "The ship is still not damaged. I believe it is safe to assume that the weapons fire is meant to destroy our defenses."

"Makes sense," Yoochun mumbled in reply, as he studied the ship's readings of their enemy's fire power. "If they want the ship, they're going to try and cause as little damage to it as they can."

"Fire something back, Commander," Yunho ordered.

Fingers flew across Changmin's screen and Yunho watched as three torpedoes fired from their ship toward the cube. All three exploded harmlessly at the edge of their shield bubble.

"No effect, Captain."

If the torpedoes, which were by far the most powerful weapon in their arsenal, couldn't blast through the Borg's shields, there was little hope that their phaser power would be able to do much harm, either. The cube shot at them again, jostling the crew.

Yunho glanced back at his second officer. "Changmin?"

"Shields are down to 23 percent. Another hit and we will lose them completely."

Almost as soon as Changmin spoke, the cube fired yet another shot. This one exploded off their bow and caused a violent cascade of energy to shoot out wildly as the force-field containing it dropped.

"Shields have failed. We're now flying defenseless. The cube is less than 1,000 kilometers off our port side."

Wasting no time, the Borg aimed a powerful tractor beam onto the ship. The deck shook again — violently and with such intensity that it threw members of the crew to the floor — and alarms went off on the bridge as the beam caused them to slam to a stop. The Valiant shuddered as its engines tried uselessly to propel it out of the Borg's grip.

"They've locked on to us, Captain," Yuri reported, voice panicked. "They're pulling us in." Indeed they were. A large docking bay — more than big enough to contain the small science vessel — opened up on the front of the cube. For a heart-stopping moment, Yunho could see clear inside the cube to where the sad remnants of ships that had been assimilated before them sat.

He swallowed the bile that had ridden in his throat and turned back to the tactical station. "Jaejoong, feel free to assist us at any time," he shouted. Jaejoong didn't answer. He stared at the cube on the screen, eyes wide with fear.

"Jaejoong!" Yunho shouted again over the din. "We're desperate here. Please!"

The other man whipped his head around to look at him. His eyes widened even more and then … something in him changed. The fear drained from his eyes, his face, his entire body, and in its place came a cold and distant apathy. Yunho could have sworn it was the drone, One of Five, standing on his bridge. His movements — which had always been a little awkward as Jaejoong adjusted to his Human body — seemed to morph. He strode confidently (robotically, Yunho thought in horror) past him, to the front of the bridge. Yunho felt a prickle of apprehension run up his spine as he watched Jaejoong approach Yuri's station and insert his assimilation tubules into the screen. The ship ceased its futile fight against the pull of the tractor beam, and a moment later, the bridge lights dimmed and blinked before they cut off completely, surrounding the crew in black darkness.

+++

As Yunho sat on the dark bridge of his adrift ship, he cursed Jaejoong's name. He cursed himself as well, for realizing way too late just how much faith he had put in the other man. He could hear Yoochun kick at the wall in rage, and he was suddenly grateful for the darkness. Grateful that none of his crew would be able to see how ashamed he was for failing to protect them — or how heart broken he was that Jaejoong had failed him.

He didn't have long to suffer, however. Even through his grief, Yunho could hear energy buzzing through the air. It was only a moment later that a bright, white flash from the view screen nearly blinded him.

"Shields are back online," Changmin reported, relief evident in his voice.

Yunho flew back into his seat as the ship jolted and broke free from the beam. He could feel the shifting of the ship as it suddenly picked up speed.

"What's he doing now?" Yunho shouted.

"He's tapped into the main propulsion system and has taken over the engines," Yuri reported. She sounded tired and exhausted. "We're traveling at warp 8.9. ... Now, we're at warp 9.2. ... 9.5! ... 9-point ... I have no idea anymore, sir, the computer can't keep up."

"Where's the cube? Put it on screen." The ship appeared, and, at first, loomed as large and intimidating as ever; but second by precious second, it seemed to fall a bit more behind. They were actually outrunning it. Happiness so heady that it nearly made him laugh out loud coursed through Yunho. By some amazing miracle, Jaejoong had scraped together enough energy to push them further and further from the cube's reach.

"Sir," Jinki piped up. By the look on his face, he wasn't sure if he should be celebrating or crying. "We can't keep going at this speed. The ship will fly apart!"

Yunho turned to look at Jaejoong. Tubules still imbedded in the helm's station screen, he made no effort to slow them down.

"Do whatever you can to hold us together," he told Jinki. At Jaejoong, "Our ship won't be able to withstand this for much longer, Jaejoong. Can you slow them down?"

Instantly, Jaejoong snapped a hand at Changmin. "Set your phasers to 934-by-803 and fire," he said flatly.

Changmin looked to Yunho for permission. "Do it," he ordered. Changmin nodded and soon sent six phaser shots flying into the upper-left corner of the cube.

"Again," Jaejoong demanded. "Keep firing until we're out of phaser range."

"Sir," Changmin said turning to Yunho, "that spot doesn't seem to be of any tactical importance."

"I think we can trust Jaejoong's knowledge of Borg vessels, Commander," Yunho shot back.

Without another word, the Vulcan fired all the ammunition he could — phasers and torpedoes — pummeling the spot Jaejoong had instructed him to hit. As a surprisingly large explosion boomed off the corner of the cube following the last phaser strike, and the cube's flight became jerky and fitful before slowing to a complete stop. Yunho watched as the cube grew smaller and smaller on the view screen, not daring to breathe until it had been lost in the sea of stars.

He turned to look at Changmin. "Status of the cube?"

The light of the security station monitors cast a gold glow on Changmin's face as he scanned the nearby vicinity. "The cube has halted its pursuit of us. I'm not picking up any other Borg vessels in the area."

"I can't believe it," Yoochun said next to him. "We got away."

"Thanks to Jaejoong." Grinning and dizzy with relief, Yunho stood and moved to place a hand on Jaejoong's shoulder. The other man yelped in surprise and snatched his tubules out of the helm computer screen. The ship lurched to another rough stop, sending everyone falling to the deck.

"Geez, Borgy," Yoochun groaned from where he lay underneath Changmin. "Be a bit more careful." He pushed the Vulcan off him and rose to his feet.

Yunho went over to help his officers stand and to view Changmin's tactical read-outs for himself. "Keep scanning until we're out of range of their sensors," he instructed Jinki. "And you," he said to Yoochun, "show a little appreciation."

"This is the second time in as many months we've had a cube after us. I'd appreciate it not happening again."

"You and everyone else on the ship."

"How did they know we where we were?" Yoochun asked Jaejoong.

The Borg shrugged. "They scanned and found us," he replied evenly.

"Are you sure you didn't tell them?"

"Jaejoong was with me on the bridge, Commander," Yunho interrupted. "He couldn't have told them anything."

"As we just learned, he doesn't need anything special to communicate with them," Yoochun said lowly to Yunho. He glared up at Jaejoong. "Why are they looking for us?"

Jaejoong shrugged again, tongue-tied in the face of the officer's aggression. "We don't know," he finally spit out. "We don't know what they're doing or why. We can just ... hear them. And only if we concentrate hard enough."

"Can they hear you?" Yoochun demanded. "Have you been communicating with them this whole time? Are they going to pop up at the next stop we make? Because there's not way I'm risking it. Not for you."

"Now is not the time to argue about this, Commander," Yunho told his first officer softly, placing a firm hand on his shoulder. "The fact of the matter is, Jaejoong just saved our lives."

Yoochun closed his eyes and gave a frustrated sigh before bowing toward Yunho and heading for the turbolift. "Thank you, Jaejoong," he said, voice strained and bitter. "Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to head down to engineering to make sure your 'help' didn't cause irreparable damage to our ship." The lift doors slide quietly shut as Yoochun was carried him away.

Yunho sighed and ran a hand through his hair. He was long overdue for a talk with his first officer; he'd wait until tempers and emotions had calmed down. Turning back to reassure Jaejoong that everything was fine, he found the Borg watching him with wide — and suspiciously red — eyes.

+++

Yunho had just changed for bed when the chime at his front door went off. Late-night guests weren't completely unexpected. As captain, his door was pretty much open all night. Add the adrenaline that was still racing through his veins after their near-assimilation, and Yunho wasn't even entirely sure why he'd bothered to put on his night clothes.

“Come,” he called. The door whooshed open to reveal Jaejoong standing in the corridor. He smiled warmly. “Jaejoong? Come in.”

“We are disturbing you,” the other observed.

“Not at all. How can I help you?”

Jaejoong hesitated a moment outside the door. Then, seemingly gaining his courage, he meet Yunho's gaze and took a few brave steps into his quarters. The door slide shut behind him.

"We didn't contact the Collective, Captain," he said without preamble. "We don't know how we were able to sense them before, but we can't now."

"Yes. You said so on the bridge. I believe you."

"Your first officer does not."

"Yoochun tends to be distrustful. It's his nature. I can say for a fact, however, that he is very happy with today's outcome."

“Were you pleased with our actions on the bridge today?”

“Are you kidding?”

Jaejoong frowned. “We would not make a joke about something so serious.”

“Jaejoong, if it weren’t for you, we’d all be drones now. You saved this ship and saved the crew. Your actions on the bridge were exemplary.”

"You're not angry at us for taking control of your ship?"

"I ordered you to help us, and you did. There's nothing to be angry about."

Jaejoong considered this with a frown.

"Is that all?"

"We ... We heard them, Captain," Jaejoong said softly. He twisted his fingers nervously around the implants in his wrist. "We thought we were becoming Human. Why could we ..." His breath began to quicken and he staggered unsteadily on his feet. Yunho reached out and led him to his couch.

"Easy," he said gently, pulling him down to sit beside him. "I'm not angry about that, either. I don't know how you were able to hear them, but I suspect it has to do with the fact the doctor couldn't remove all your implants."

"We felt as if someone had intruded on our thoughts."

"I understand how frightening that could be."

Jaejoong looked over at him in annoyance. "You understand? No, Captain, you can't understand. You have no idea what it’s like being a part of the Collective."

"I understand your feelings, Jaejoong, even if I don't know," Yunho soothed.

Jaejoong paid him no attention, instead continuing his panicked rambling "We wouldn't hurt your crew, Captain. We wouldn't hurt you. But they ... we heard them, their thoughts. They would have damaged you badly. Not just you: the doctor, your commander, the Vulcan Changmin. We cannot allow them to be drones."

"You need to calm down," Yunho said, voice firm. "The Borg are dangerous, but we escaped and it's over now.”

"No!" Jaejoong shot up from his seat. "It's not over. They're still out there. What if we run into them again?"

"Then we'll escape them like we did today."

"You must go back."

"Excuse me?"

"You must take your ship and your crew back to your own space. It's safer there."

Yunho shook his head. "I'm not letting the Borg chase us away."

"You have to!" Jaejoong stomped his foot. "Do you know what would have happened to you if we hadn't been on the ship?"

"But you were, Jaejoong, and I'm so grateful you were."

Jaejoong scoffed at this, his breathing growing more and more agitated. "Grateful?" he nearly wheezed. "You’re grateful?! There is nothing to be grateful for, Captain. This escape is temporary. If they decide they want you, the Collective will search the galaxy for you. We will not be able to help you outrun them forever. They have technology you and your crew can't even begin to imagine."

"Calm down," Yunho ordered, standing and attempting to placate his frantic visitor.

"We are one. We are no threat. We’ve told you this before!"

“Jaejoong — ”

“Humans are so naive. Next time, they will assimilate your ship and they will destroy you. You are lucky we were able to hear them, hear where their defenses were weakened. That wasn’t all we heard. We heard them analyzing the ship. They know your weaknesses. They know they can destroy you, and we ...,” Jaejoong’s breathing hitched as he fought the emotion that choked him, “we ... we were afraid.”

Without thinking, Yunho pulled Jaejoong into a hug, locking the other's arms to his sides. Of course: Fear. That explained Jaejoong's irrational response. He was swinging back and forth from anger to desperation faster than Yunho could keep up. It was painful to hear.

Everyone on the bridge had been faced with the knowledge that the Borg could have easily killed all of them, but only one could actually hear them as they contemplated it. It was the same one who lacked the emotional strength to deal with it, and it had been the one he'd ordered to remain on the bridge.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered. He pressed his nose into Jaejoong's hair and gave him a squeeze. This mess was his fault. It was true that Jaejoong's expertise had saved them all, but he should have had some idea of how traumatizing it would be for Jaejoong to come face-to-face with his captors again. “You're right. We're all so naive. We need to be more careful.”

Jaejoong seemed to go slack in his arms and he tightened his grip around him. “We are useless like this, Captain," he murmured, sounding drained. "We can’t even protect our own mind.”

Yunho didn't reply; instead, he held onto Jaejoong for a bit longer, absentmindedly rubbing small circles in his back. He could feel an implant running the length of Jaejoong's spine, and he mourned silently for the Human who had so much taken away from him. A few minutes later, he released him, embarrassed by the liberties he'd taken in touching the other man.

"Ah, Jaejoong," he cleared his throat and took a few more steps back to regain his composure. "It's been a long day," he said. "You really need to get some rest."

Jaejoong nodded, but didn't make any moves to leave.

"We froze, Captain," Jaejoong said softly. "We heard them and we ... we didn't know what to do. A month ago, when we were sitting in your brig, we would have welcomed them. And we have to admit that hearing them again today, it was terrifying but ... it was also a relief.”

“A relief?”

Jaejoong turned and slowly began to pace the small room. “We have spent these past few weeks lost, Captain. We’ve been locked away, physically assaulted and snubbed. We doubt our own words every time we speak, afraid that we’ll say something that will offend you or your crew. It's been a struggle, and when we heard the voice of the Collective, we ... we had order. It was familiar and we felt at peace."

“What are you saying?”

“We can’t be alone, Captain,” Jaejoong said in a rush. His eyes were red but still dry. “Please. We’ll rest like you asked. We'll sleep. We’ll sit in the corner, but please, don’t send us back to our quarters ... alone. We need to be near someone ... someone who reminds us why it’s good to be Human.”

"Okay," Yunho agreed. He reached out and took Jaejoong's arm and lead him back to the couch. Settling him down, he went to the linen closet in his bedroom and returned with a pillow and a heavy quilt. He placed the pillow on the arm of the couch and draped the blanket over him. "Just rest, okay? I'll be in my room if you need me." He ordered the computer to lower the lights and turned to leave.

"Captain?" he heard Jaejoong mumble. "Stay? Until we lose consciousness."

"Jaejoong, I don't think— "

"It will not take us long," Jaejoong argued. "Please?" Noticing Yunho's hesitation, he sat up on the couch. "In the quiet, we sometimes think we can hear them. If you're nearby, we can blame any noise we hear on you."

Yunho scoffed, but slowly moved to sit at the end of the couch, careful of Jaejoong's feet. He leaned back, resting his head on the back of the couch, and closed his eyes. He felt the cushions sink as Jaejoong settled back down.

He looked ahead, watching the streaks of starlight fly past his window as the ship hurtled forward. A familiar sense of self-disgust — the one that had occasionally haunted him during those painful few days right after his sister and fiancée's death — took over his thoughts. What was he doing out here? What were any of them doing out here? Jaejoong was right; Humans were naive. No, he thought bitterly. It wasn't naivety that drew them out here; it was arrogance, which was much more dangerous. As much as he hated the Borg, he had thought he also understood and respected just how powerful they were.

And yet, here Yunho was, risking his and the lives of his crew in the name of exploration and discovery. They'd barely survived today — they wouldn't have if it weren't for the former drone on board — and he still had the audacity to try and convince Jaejoong they could handle what was out here.

He was a fool.

"Tell us about Earth," Jaejoong spoke up suddenly.

Shaking himself from his thoughts, he nudged Jaejoong's foot playfully. "I'm sure you know more about Earth than I could ever tell you."

"Only what the Collective deemed relevant," he answered softly. "We want to hear what you think is relevant."

Turning to look at him in the darkness, Yunho frowned. "Why?"

"We are curious why you'd leave it for this."

Earth. He pictured the planet — blue and inviting — and felt a twinge of homesickness. He realized he hadn't been back in a nearly a year. You haven't had any reason to go back, a bitter voice spoke in his mind.

"Earth is my home. And yours too, I suppose. I was born there. My parents are there. It's what we were defending at Wolf 359, when the Borg ... hurt me."

"Would we like it?"

Yunho shrugged, before remembering that Jaejoong couldn't see him. "I'm not sure. There are billions of people on Earth. All of them individuals, many of them who probably won't like you. You might be overwhelmed at first. But there are also beaches and sunsets and rain and animals and plants and trillions of other beautiful things."

"Beauty is irrelevant, Captain. It serves no purpose."

"Hardly. Beauty is pleasing, it makes Humans feel good. When something is beautiful, that means it's healthy, it's alive. My favorite thing about Earth is that there's water everywhere. No other place I've been in the galaxy has as much as it does. Changmin hates it. As I'm sure you know, Vulcan is dry and arid — basically a giant desert. But on Earth ... we have oceans, rivers, lakes, glaciers, clouds, rain. Water is everywhere and it's beautiful."

"We aren't sure we'd enjoy that," Jaejoong murmured sleepily.

"Humans need water, Jaejoong. We can't go long without it. And not just for drinking. We wash with it, cook with it, cool ourselves with it. It can be dangerous, though. During the summers, my father used to take us to the beach. He taught both me and my sister to swim of course, but my favorite thing to do was to get in the water, lie back and just float."

"The density of the Human body is less than that of seawater. Floating would be more efficient than swimming."

Yunho grinned. "Efficient," he was learning, was Jaejoong for "good," "fun" or "pleasurable." Efficient, it seemed, was as complimentary as the Borg got.

"Much more efficient," he replied. "I could just enjoy the feel of the water, the warmth of the sun, without having to think about where I was going or what my limbs were doing. One summer, I wasn't paying attention and I drifted nearly half a mile from the shore. I panicked and tired myself out trying to swim back. I couldn't make it all the way on my own and my father had to come out and tow me in. My mother was scared to death."

"You could have died."

"I could have," Yunho agreed. "But that didn't stop me from going out the next day and spending the whole day in the water. Same thing out here. I've had some scary run-ins, but I always come back. " He picked up the edge of Jaejoong's blanket and ran his fingers idly over the weave of the knit fabric. "I don't know what I can say that will convince you it's good to be Human," he began softly, "but I can say you are becoming a good one. You fought to save us, even though you were scared. You've tried hard to fit in, to help us, to accept us even when we haven't accepted you. I think ... I'm proud of you."

Yunho surprised himself with the declaration, but thinking back, he had been happy to see how well Jaejoong had adapted to life on the ship. At first, he just thought it relief that Jaejoong hadn't turned out to be a threat to his crew, but that didn't explain the way he'd felt when Jaejoong had remained on the bridge to help them fight nor did it explain his disappointment when he thought Jaejoong had betrayed them.

He had grown to trust the other man and Jaejoong had proven himself worthy of it. He had been a better Human than Yunho had been at Wolf 359, he realized bitterly.

He looked over in the darkness and listened for the sounds of Jaejoong sleeping. When he recognized the tell-tale slow breathing, he stood up and made sure that he was snug underneath the blanket before heading to bed.

It took Yunho hours to fall asleep that night. He dreamt about the Borg — something he did about two or three times a month. This time, however, for the first time, he could see the faces of the drones. They were his family. His mother and father were there. His sister and fiancée were there. Even Jaejoong was there. In the dream, he didn't cry or rage over what the Borg had done.

Instead, he knelt down and begged forgiveness for what he hadn't.

+++

Jaejoong awoke to the sound of food cooking and Yunho humming. He sat up and followed the sound, shuffling into the quarters' small kitchen.

"Good morning," Yunho greeted him. He gave an amused half smile before motioning toward Jaejoong's head. "Nice bed head you've got there."

Jaejoong patted his head. He could feel tufts of his black hair sticking out, but saw no need to fix it. "What are you doing?" he asked instead.

"Making breakfast. I've decided the main bridge crew could use the morning off."

Jaejoong watched as Yunho puttered around the kitchen, observing as he sliced and prepared some bread and fruit, placed it on a tray and handed it to him.

"Mind helping?" Yunho asked. Jaejoong held onto the platter, unsure of what Yunho was asking of him. The captain motioned toward the small dining area of his quarters. "Set it on the table."

Jaejoong did and settled himself in one of the chairs. Yunho joined a few minutes later with a tall carafe of juice in one hand and a plate bacon in the other.

"Here." he sat down and piled a piece of toast, some fruit and a slice of the meat on a plate in front of Jaejoong.

Looking around at the table setting, Jaejoong gave him a questioning look. "Chopsticks?"

Yunho grinned. "No need. Go ahead and eat."

Jaejoong seemed to sag in relief at this before picking up his toast and ripping a piece off. He popped it into his mouth and licked the butter off his fingers.

"Your appetite seems to be growing."

Jaejoong picked up a strawberry and studied it. "This food is much more practical, Captain. No unnecessary tools to impede our eating process."

"You're going to have to figure out how to use utensils at some point."

"Then we'll wait until some point."

Yunho laughed, and they ate in companionable silence. He watched as the other picked curiously at his food. He had no idea what to think about this man who'd single-handedly delivered them from the Borg's grasp. Who could apparently tap into the ship itself and make it do things even Starfleet engineers thought it impossible to do. Who had come to him last night and cried that he still wasn't entirely sure if he wanted to be Human.

That moment on the bridge, when Jaejoong had for all appearances given in to the voices of the Collective, had shaken Yunho more than he wanted to admit. The thought of Jaejoong — eager and honest Jaejoong — being lost to the will of the Collective left him feeling sick with fear. He wanted Jaejoong to be Human, he realized; but more than that, he wanted Jaejoong towant to be Human.

"Have you found a reason?" he asked him suddenly, a strange case of butterflies causing his breakfast to sit uncomfortably in his stomach. "Your reason why it's good to be Human," he clarified when Jaejoong looked up at him. "I ask because you worried me yesterday. For a second ... I actually thought you were going to help them assimilate us."

"You don't pay attention, Captain," Jaejoong replied with a shake of his head. He poked at a piece of melon on his plate. "We've told you our reason many times already."

"Have you?" Yunho asked, throat tight. "Remind me." He needed to hear it. They'd come so close to losing Jaejoong during that battle. He needed to do whatever it took to keep that from ever happening again.

"We told you while you were working on the bridge and last night before we went to sleep," Jaejoong replied, arching the eyebrow hidden behind the implant above his eye. "It's you. We wish to be Human for you."

Jaejoong's words from last night came echoing back in his head. "Someone who reminds us why it's good to be Human."

Jaejoong wanted to be Human for him. That's how he found the power to fight off the Collective. Mouth dry and heart racing, Yunho looked up to see him staring at him, face bright and happy. Yunho could feel his heart swell in his chest. "I'm why you saved the ship?" he asked, unable to keep the note of awe out of his voice.

Biting into a piece of bacon, Jaejoong nodded. "We saw your face and it reminded us that we couldn't let them hurt you … I won't let them hurt you."

Oh, Yunho thought dumbly. He didn't notice Jaejoong's use of the word "I." What he did notice was how soft his hair looked in the ambient lighting of his quarters, and how bright and how easily he smiled. Jaejoong was lean to the point of looking frail and yet, he had protected Yunho and his crew from one of the strongest forces in the galaxy.

Realizing how shamelessly he was staring at Jaejoong, he ducked his head and busied himself with his breakfast. Head still spinning from Jaejoong's most powerful admission yet, Yunho realized Jaejoong had been wrong. He may have been one, but he was a threat.

Just not to the crew. 

Chapter Text

First officer's personal log, stardate 45112.3: The captain has given everyone on the ship, save a few members of a skeleton crew, the day off to relax and recover from our run-in with the Borg. While I can't help but wonder how much of this is because of Jaejoong's own panicked reaction to seeing them, I won't complain.

Sunlight was always a welcome treat for the crew of the Valiant. Even if it was artificial.

The doors to the ship's large holosuite whooshed open, and Yoochun was nearly blinded by the light reflecting off white sand on the holographic beach. Whoever had created this beach program had spared no details: tall palm trees with large green leaves lined the beach and cawing seabirds flew lazily overhead. The air was warm, but not uncomfortably so, and the sky was a perfect shade of blue with not a cloud in sight. Large colorful beach umbrellas and blankets had been placed in the sand and the smell of grilling meat wafted in the air.

The simulated ocean reached well into the horizon. With the sounds of the waves crashing against the shore and the salty smell of sea blowing in the breeze, Yoochun almost forgot it was a simulation. He pulled out the sunglasses he had looped on the neck of his tank top and slipped them on his face.

"Beautiful," he sighed, basking in the warmth of the sun.

"Unnecessary," the tall man next to him replied. Yoochun turned to see Changmin squinting in the sunlight and frowning. His crossed his arms, hugging a medium-sized PADD to his chest. Yoochun groaned.

"Please, Min," he began, "it's been a hard week. Can you just ... for five minutes, can you just pretend to not be a complete stick in the mud?"

Changmin had the decency to look repentant and sighed. "I agree it's been difficult these past few days, but I don't understand how goofing off on a fake Earth beach will improve anyone's mood."

"Space can be scary, Min. It's nice to have a reminder of something familiar and safe." Yoochun stepped onto the burning sand and scanned the crowd. Most of the crew had already taken advantage of the make-shift shore leave and were swimming in the ocean waves, lounging on the beach or playing volleyball at one of the nets. As was expected, none of them had elected to wear their Starfleet uniform. He turned to look back at the annoyed Vulcan. Changmin, of course, was still in his gold bridge uniform. "Please tell me you're not going to wear that the whole time."

With a curt nod, Changmin stomped past Yoochun and settled underneath the closest beach umbrella. He hesitated a moment, looking for some place to sit more dignified than the garish orange beach blanket. Unable to find anything, he sat down gracefully, his long legs stretched out in front of him and crossed at the ankles. Yoochun followed, hopping quickly from one bare foot to the other until he reached the blanket.

"It's bad enough we're wasting valuable time with this foolishness," he began. "There's no need for me to look like a fool, too." He eyed Yoochun up and down, staring pointedly at the frayed ends of his rather loud green and white swim trunks.

"Are you trying to say I look stupid, Min?"

"I'm not trying, Commander."

They both jumped, startled, at the sound of Yunho's ringing laughter. "Never change, you two," he said. Yoochun smiled happily at the sound. He hadn't heard Yunho laugh like that in ... well, quite a long time. Dressed in a pair of black board shorts and a white tank, the older officer almost looked like the carefree teen he used to be before he enrolled in Starfleet.

Yoochun huffed and pretended to be offended. "Insulting your commanding officer. I should demote you or something." He kicked at the toe of Changmin's boot.

"But you can't, so you won't," Changmin quipped. He tapped at his PADD and began reading. "Good morning, captain," he greeted Yunho.

"Yunho," Yoochun said, turning toward the older man. "Remind him that as a senior officer, it's his job to set an example for the others. Force him to smile or build a sand castle or something."

Yunho cocked an eyebrow at that. "Okay. May I remind you of that as well?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," Yoochun pouted.

"I guess that's why you've been ignoring Jaejoong lately?"

Yoochun looked away. The Borg again. Yunho had spoken with him about his short temper with the recovering Human. And while Yoochun realized it wasn't necessarily Jaejoong's fault they'd encountered that cube and it was definitely thanks to him that they'd been able to escape it, he still wasn't quite ready to befriend him.

"Bionic Boy is just fine, Yunho," he said. "He's made quite a name for himself on the ship since his little show on the bridge. He's not worried about me."

"He is. He wants to fit in, and he sees gaining your acceptance as one of his biggest challenges in doing so."

Yoochun met Yunho's gaze, a familiar hurt and pain reflecting in their depths. "It's hard."

"I know," Yunho said softly. "Just ... go a little easier on him."

"Aye, aye, sir."

Yunho punched his shoulder playfully at the deference. "Helping Jaejoong might make the good doctor think more kindly of you, too."

A pink blush bloomed on Yoochun's face and spread to his bare shoulders. "Why would I care about that?"

The sound of Changmin's scoff nearly sent Yunho collapsing beside him in laughter. Yoochun kicked him again.

"What are you scoffing at?" he asked, hands on his narrow hips.

"You," Changmin replied easily. "You're a horrible liar, Commander."

"What'd he lie about?" a familiar voice asked. Yunho and Yoochun turned to see Junsu approaching them with two large beach towels in his arm and practically dragging a nervous Jaejoong behind him. Both were wearing brightly colored swim trunks, but Jaejoong had chosen to also wear a white t-shirt that nearly fell to his knees.

"Nothing!" Yoochun snapped quickly. He none-too-gently kicked a pile of sand onto Changmin's legs. "The commander's just grumpy that we all have better beach bodies than he does." The glare Changmin shot the other man could have dried up the ocean.

Releasing Jaejoong's arm to set down their towels, Junsu shot Yoochun a smirk. "It seems the commander's right. You are a horrible liar."

"Would you care to know what he was lying about?" Changmin asked, an uncharacteristically mischievous smile pulling at his lips.

"Come on, Doc," Yoochun said before Junsu could reply. "I've been dying to get in the water." He grabbed Junsu's arm and pulled him away. Junsu beamed and allowed himself to be led away. He gave Jaejoong an encouraging wave before running after Yoochun.

"That was cruel," Yunho joked as he watched the two head to the water.

Changmin shrugged. "He deserved it."

Yunho chuckled softly before looking up to see Jaejoong staring at them both in curiosity. He gave him a quick look over, his heart warming at the sight of him nearly drowning in his t-shirt. "That shirt's kind of big on you, don't you think?"

Jaejoong looked down at himself. "That's what the doctor said as well."

"Is there a reason you replicated it to be so large?"

"We don't like tight-fitting clothes, Captain. They ... irritate us." Yunho watched as nervous fingers ran along the edges of the wires embedded in Jaejoong skin. He realized he'd never asked him if the remaining implants ever caused him any pain, and made a mental note to check with Junsu about it.

"'We' again?" he asked, cocking his head in question. "I thought you'd finally figured out how to use the word 'I'?"

Jaejoong looked at him as if he were slow. "Tight clothes bother all Borg."

"Of course." It was probably too much to expect that Jaejoong had completely altered his speech after nearly a lifetime of living as a part of the Collective, but it had been encouraging at the very least to hear that single "I." It was a sign Yunho needed. A sign that his Humanity, as fragile as it was, was taking root and thriving.

He grinned, watching as Jaejoong stood awkwardly five feet away from the blanket where the doctor had let him loose.

"Jaejoong?" Yunho called to him. "Do you want to sit?"

Jaejoong sat down right where he stood, only to shoot right back up again when the hot sand burned at his skin.

"Come over here on the blanket," Yunho instructed.

Coming closer and kicking off his shoes, Jaejoong stepped onto the knit blanket and plopped down beside Changmin. The fabric of his shirt billowed around him, and from where he was still standing, Yunho could easily see down the collar of his too-large shirt. Prominent collar bones and one dusky wine-colored nipple could briefly been seen before the shirt settled back around his lean form. Yunho stared, perhaps a moment too long, and felt a sharp pinch on his foot. He looked down to to see Changmin staring up at him knowingly.

He pulled his foot away in embarrassment. It would seem his growing attraction to Jaejoong had already become an obvious problem. Guilt gnawed at him, shaming him for ogling the other man. There was no way Jaejoong would be able to understand his feelings, and he certainly wouldn't understand the lustful nature of his gaze. It was wrong to leer at him like he was some potential hook-up.

"Is this the type of beach you would visit when you were younger?" Jaejoong asked, oblivious to Yunho's thoughts. He looked up at his captain, and the other man felt heat prick his skin as the intense gaze settled on him. There was one thing about Jaejoong that Yunho never thought he'd be able to get used to, and that was the way he looked at people as if he was absorbing their every detail.

Shaking his head clear, Yunho turned to gaze out at the beach. "Sort of. Our family used to visit a lake, not an ocean, so it was nowhere near this big." Feeling flushed, he pulled off his tank top and dropped it to the blanket. Distance. Some distance would be good. It would give him a chance recollect himself. "I think I'm gonna go cool off real quick. It's burning up out here."

He jogged quickly to the water's edge, where Yoochun and Junsu stood kicking water at each other. Without a word to the other two, he ran head first into the tide, letting the cool ocean water wash over him.

Back on the shore, Jaejoong frowned. "It's not that hot," he commented. "We don't understand why the captain ran away so quickly."

Changmin reached over to adjust the collar of the large shirt. "I have an idea why," he said, attempting to keep his disapproval out of his voice. He would have to have a talk with his captain about this possible new distraction on board. It certainly wouldn't do for the commanding officer to have to douse himself in cold water every time he saw a member of his crew.

Jaejoong picked up on the other's sour mood. "You are not enjoying yourself," he stated.

"No," Changmin replied. "Not particularly." Glancing up at him, he asked, "Are you?"

"We do not understand the point of this ... outing, but it is not unenjoyable. We've— I've never been on a beach before."

"There are better things we could be doing with our time."

Jaejoong nodded in agreement. "It isn't very efficient, but it is fascinating."

Their conversation was interrupted by a squeaky high-pitched laugh coming from the water. They looked over to see Yunho grabbing his first officer underneath his arms and Junsu lifting the man's legs. Swinging once, twice, three times, they threw him into the incoming tide. Yunho had the sense to flee before the other man returned to the surface, but Junsu remained standing nearby to laugh. His squeals of happiness soon became panicked shrieks when Yoochun stood and pulled him down into the water.

Yunho watched a safe distance away, shaking his head fondly at the pair, before looking up and meeting Jaejoong's gaze. He hesitated a moment, but eventually smiled and waved at him from across the beach.

"They need to stop before they injure themselves," Changmin sighed, looking back down at his PADD.

Jaejoong grinned brightly. "We don't want them to stop. The captain looks happy."

Changmin looked up to watch the three horse-playing men. "I suppose he does." He turned to watch Jaejoong, who was still grinning and waving excitedly. "As do you."

Jaejoong shrugged. "We are enjoying watching the crew. Everyone seems much happier. It makes us feel happy."

"Well, it tends to frustrate me."

Another high-pitched squeal of laughter. They both looked to see Yoochun jump on to Junsu's back. The doctor struggled to hold his weight while Yoochun whispered something in his ear. Junsu flushed bright pink and stumbled over his feet, causing them both to fall on the soft wet sand.

"The doctor and the commander don't seem to be getting along well," Jaejoong commented. He watched as Yoochun pulled Junsu back up from the sand only to push him into the water.

Changmin rolled his eyes and resumed reading his PADD. "Ignore it. The commander tends to flirt violently."

Jaejoong frowned. "'Flirt?'" he asked, testing the word.

"Behavior Humans engage in to express romantic or sexual interest in one another."

"What kind of behavior?"

"It can vary," Changmin said with a shrug. "But, it's tends to be teasing and bantering. The commander tends to be more ... physical."

Jaejoong considered this for a moment. Behavior to express interest in sexual interest seemed horribly convoluted. "Why doesn't he just tell the doctor he wishes to copulate with him?"

"Humans," Changmin replied simply.

Apparently bored with being ignored and plenty cool, Yunho ran back up the beach to where Jaejoong and Changmin sat.

"You two are missing a lot of fun," he said, collapsing onto the blanket next to Changmin.

Changmin tapped at his screen, flipping the page of his text. "I'm enjoying myself plenty, Captain. Thank you."

Yunho rolled his eyes. "Vulcans. The wet blankets of the galaxy."

Jaejoong lifted an edge of the blanket before turning to look at Yunho quizzically. The other man grinned. "It's just an expression," he explained. "Aren't you bored up here?"

"Jaejoong has been people watching," Changmin answered for him. "The commander's antics have been incredibly ... attention-grabbing."

"People watching, huh? What have you seen?"

"The commander and the doctor appear to enjoy hurting each other, but Lt. Cmdr. Changmin says that's simply how Humans express romantic interest."

Yunho gaped, a bit taken aback, before shaking his head and grinning. "Well ... it sounds like you've seen a lot."

"Is this true? Humans mock and hurt each other as a way to create pair-bonds?"

Yunho fidgeted. Jaejoong's stare and line of questioning was making him feel hot again. This was most definitely not a topic on Humanity he ever thought he'd be teaching him. "Humans pay special attention to each other when interested in developing a relationship. Some people ... " he turned to look back and watch Yoochun dump a handful of water over Junsu's head. "Some people are just really loud and obvious with their attention."

"Attention," Jaejoong mumbled to himself. "That makes sense. If a Human wishes to reproduce with someone successfully, they would have to ensure their care and safety." Studying the pair, he looked from Yoochun and Junsu to Yunho and back. Suddenly, a realization hit him. "You have been flirting with us," he stated matter-of-factly.

Yunho inhaled sharply, nearly choking on his own air. Changmin looked up to stare at him, a reproachful glint in his eye. "No," Yunho said, fighting back a cough. "No, Jaejoong, I haven't been flirting with you. What ... what ever made you think that!?"

Jaejoong tilted his head mechanically as he thought. It reminded Yunho of an android accessing a memory file. "You've help us, you've protected and defended us, you let us sleep with you. That's attention you've given us you haven't given others, is it not?"

Changmin's stare became a full on glare. "Captain?" he asked, voice stern.

"It wasn't like that, Min," Yunho stammered. To Jaejoong, he said, "That's different. That's not flirting. I was ... I was just ... taking care of you," he ended weakly.

Jaejoong's brow furrowed. "We don't think we understand the difference."

"In this case, there isn't much of one," Changmin said coolly.

"You're not helping," Yunho mumbled at him. "You're my friend, Jaejoong. I take care of my friends. But taking care of someone doesn't always equal romantic interest. Understand?"

"No," Jaejoong said with a shake of his head. "But we'll believe you. You will tell us if or when you do flirt with us?"

Changmin cleared his throat. Yunho ignored it. "Yes, Jaejoong. I'll tell you."

Yunho turned away to lie back on the blanket, aware of the two pairs of eyes watching him: one curious and the other furious. Jaejoong was going to be the death of him, he was sure of it. If the former drone didn't get them all assimilated, he'd force Changmin to kill him.

Jaejoong stared sadly as Yunho basked in the sun. Another misunderstanding, he lamented. Another conversation ended with him chasing away the captain's attention. Whatever he'd said had been enough for Yunho to decide that lying in silence was preferable to speaking with him. The light caused his naturally tan skin to glow warmly, and he took in the sight of Yunho's wide chest, smooth and well-muscled. Slipping a hand underneath his shirt, he felt his own torso. It was lean, but no where near as defined as Yunho's. His palm settled over the large, flat metallic implant that was embedded in his chest above his heart. He briefly wondered what the captain would say if he saw it. Would his reaction be one of fear, disgust or pity?

Yunho had turned back to find Jaejoong's gaze locked on him. "Jaejoong?" he asked, interrupting the other's thoughts. Jaejoong snapped his eyes off Yunho's chest up to his eyes. "You're staring," the captain chided gently.

"We're sorry," he said softly. "You have a nice body, Captain."

Yunho flushed and sat up. He grabbed his discarded tank top and began to pull it on over his head. Changmin looked up from his PADD to give Jaejoong a worried look.

"Jaejoong," Yunho said, as he straightened his shirt. "I don't think—"

"Our chest is ... different. It's still Borg. We're still Borg."

A look of understanding crossed Yunho's face. True, he needed distance from Jaejoong. But not until he was sure the other was able to stand on his own. He rose from his spot on the blanket and sat cross-legged next to Jaejoong. He reached out to run a finger along the metal embedded in his arm. It was surprisingly warm to the touch.

"Still Borg," Yunho repeated. "But you're getting better."

"We will never be completely Human."

"No," Yunho agreed. "But I think we've learned that might not be a horrible thing."

Jaejoong lowered his hand to his belly when a low, muffled growl gurgled.

"Sounds like you're hungry," Yunho noted. "Have you been eating regularly?"

"We eat when we're told to," Jaejoong replied with a shrug.

That worried Yunho. "How often is that?"

"At least once a day." Jaejoong noticed Yunho's frown of disapproval. "Don't worry, Captain. We are not uncomfortable."

"You should get something to eat," Changmin instructed. He pointed to a picnic table a few yards away. "There's food over there. You should be able to find something you'd like."

Jaejoong looked to where he pointed nervously. A small cluster of officers sat on one of the benches. He didn't recognize any of them as part of the group that had cornered him in the cargo bay, but he was still nervous around strangers.

"Go ahead," Yunho encouraged. "Don't be afraid. You've got more friends on this ship than you realize."

"How?" Jaejoong asked.

"By saving us all. I made sure everyone knew that it was you who helped us evade the Borg. No one will hurt you."

Persuaded, Jaejoong stood and dusted the sand off his trunks. Aware of the eyes that followed behind him, he slowly made his way to the buffet table. Yuri and Hyoyeon sat talking on one of the benches, their plates balanced on their laps.

His stomach growled louder as he studied the offerings. Platters of grilled meat and vegetables covered the table, as well as bowls of fruit salad and slaw. He stared at it all for a minute or two, unsure of what he wanted. The girls' chatter grew silent and they both turned to stare at him.

"Need something?" Yuri asked hesitantly.

"We need food," he replied.

Yuri glanced down where Hyoyeon had gripped her forearm before smiling kindly at Jaejoong. "What would you like?"

"Nothing we can't eat with our hands."

The lieutenant gave him a confused look, but reached into a cooler and handed him a frozen strawberry fruit bar. "Try this."

Pulling the plastic wrap off, he tentatively brought the cold treat to his mouth. He bit off a small chunk and it melted in his mouth easily. Surprised by the deliciousness of the bar, he finished it up five large bites.

"Another," he asked, hand out.

With a small laugh, Yuri dug in the cooler and pulled out another bar. He ripped off the packaging and took a bite. He'd eaten very few fruits since his liberation, and the sweetness of the bar reminded him of sharing breakfast in Yunho's quarters. It tasted like the fresh berries and melon he'd prepared for them both the morning after they'd faced the Collective. It was cool and comforting.

"Another," he mumbled, mouth full of red frozen slush. "It's for the captain," he explained when she gave him a reluctant look. Grabbing the offered treat, he stood up and hurried back over to the beach blanket.

Yunho had stretched back out, napping in the warmth of the sun, when Jaejoong plopped down beside him.

"Captain, eat this," he began. He held the unopened fruit bar out in front of him while still nibbling at his own.

Yunho sat up. "What is it?"

"We aren't sure, but it's delicious." Jaejoong finished up his second bar in three more quick bites. Yunho laughed when he noticed the other man eyeing the third.

"Go ahead and eat that one," he said.

"We got this for you," Jaejoong insisted.

"Trust me, I don't mind."

Jaejoong didn't hesitate before ripping into the third bar. By this point, his face and hands were sticky with melted fruit syrup. A large piece of the quickly melting treat broke off the stick and landed on Jaejoong's lap. The Borg simply picked it up and popped it into his mouth.

Yunho tried not to stare as Jaejoong's tongue flicked out and ran along his now bright red lips. They would taste like strawberries, he imagined. Or raspberries. Whichever fruit the dessert had been flavored after. It was all he could do to keep himself from leaning in to find out.

"We've really got to teach you table manners," Yunho said with forced laugh as Jaejoong sucked the red syrup off his fingers.

"We still don't see the point." Jaejoong lapped his tongue around his thumb, dabbing at a dot of fruit that sat between his fingers. Damn, Yunho swore to himself. It was so uncomfortably hot again.

"You're all sticky." He stood up and held his hand out. "Come on, you should take a dip in the water."

Still licking on his fingers, Jaejoong looked at his outstretched hand warily. "We aren't sure ..."

"Your implants are waterproof, aren't they?"

"Of course," Jaejoong bristled. "Waterproof, shockproof and—"

"Well, then, let's go." Yunho pulled Jaejoong to his feet and down the beach to where the water lapped at the shore. He pulled them to the edge of the water and wiggled his toes in the cool wet sand. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply before turning to look at Jaejoong. "It's amazing, isn't it?"

Jaejoong looked out. He scanned the horizon, searching for the water's edge. He was slightly startled when he couldn't see it. "It's ... it's big."

"Not as big as space."

"We know space," Jaejoong replied. He tightened his grip on Yunho's arm and pressed closer. He yelped, startled and surprised, when the cold ocean water suddenly lapped at his ankles.

"Ah, Jaejoong," a happy voice shouted out. He turned to see Junsu jogging toward him with a smile on his face. Yoochun trailed behind him. "How's the water?"

"Cold," he answered. Junsu grinned broadly at him and ran to his other side.

"You'll get used to it," he soothed. Hand-in-hand, the three men walked further into the ocean until they stood waist-deep in the water. They stood, looking out at the horizon when the serene peace was suddenly interrupted by water splashing in their faces.

"Yoochun!" Yunho shouted. The only answer he received was a deep-voiced guffaw. Letting go of Jaejoong's hand, the older man took off and pulled his first officer into under the water's surface.

"They'll injure themselves," Jaejoong said, repeating Changmin's earlier concern.

"They'll be fine," Junsu commented. "How have you been? I didn't get to see much of you after ... you know."

"You were busy tending to injuries. We understand. The captain helped us."

Junsu brightened. "He did?"

"Yes. We had trouble being alone and spent the night in his quarters."

A troubled look crossed Junsu's face and Jaejoong felt a prick of remorse. "We did not mean to bother him," he explained.

"That's not what I'm concerned about."

"He wasn't flirting with us!" Jaejoong felt the need to insist.

"That's what I'm concerned about," Junsu hissed. He turned to give Yunho a scolding glare. "Jaejoong, I know you may not understand it, but it's not healthy for you to form such strong attachments just yet."

Jaejoong frowned, unsure of what to say next. There was something about his relationship with the captain that Yunho and everyone else was misreading. Something big that he wasn't grasping.

He had slept with the captain, had come to him late at night when he was his most vulnerable and the other man had made him feel better. Made him feel stronger. He wasn't sure why that was a bad thing, but he didn't want anyone — least of all his own crew — judging him for it.

Maybe he'd been wrong to speak of what had happened between them. Ever since they'd had breakfast that morning, Jaejoong had noticed something different about the way Yunho treated him. He was still kind, still helpful, but now he seemed more cautious. Not the angry sort of fear he had shown when Jaejoong first arrived on the ship. It was more of a jumpy nervousness that, every once in a while, seemed to belie his usually calm and commanding demeanor. It was what sent him racing to the water earlier before and caused him to fluster when talking about the doctor and the commander. The Vulcan Changmin said he had an idea of what could be causing it and it seemed the doctor did, too, but as neither of them had told him, he doubted they'd let him in on whatever the big secret was.

Jaejoong looked over to where Yunho stood, arm slung around Yoochun as his wiped the water from the other's eyes. He was laughing and smiling louder and wider than Jaejoong had ever seen, and Jaejoong felt something in him grow brighter. The captain — Yunho, he thought — was able to do that, to continue to be so wonderfully Human, because of him.

With that thought, his resolve strengthened. Whatever the problem was, he would figure it out and he would fix it. He was smart, efficient and resourceful.

He'd protected Yunho once from the greatest threat in the galaxy; whatever was causing this strange awkwardness would be no challenge for him.

After all, he was Borg.

Chapter Text

Changmin knew.

It wasn't hard to figure out how he knew (the Vulcan was a logical man and had been one of Yunho's closest friends for almost 10 years), but what was proving difficult, was figuring out his current behavior.

Changmin — cool, rational, sensible Changmin – had been staring him down on the bridge all morning. The Vulcan's stoic demeanor was intimidating even when he was in a good mood. Whatever mood this was made him seem downright terrifying.

“Does Changmin seem creepier than normal to you today?” he’d asked Yoochun, leaning close to the other man. He looked back furtively to see Changmin watching him from the corner of his eye while he spoke with a ensign in security.

Yoochun shrugged. “I think he's always creepy.”

“He’s been watching me all day today.”

Yoochun smirked, but didn’t look up from the readings at his command chair. “Just ask him what's up. It's not like you can embarrass him.”

No, but the inevitable discussion that would follow would definitely embarrass Yunho. While he hadn't acted like a complete fool on the beach (at least, he hoped he hadn't), his behavior toward Jaejoong could certainly be classified as inappropriate. He'd just come to realize his own feelings of affection toward the former drone. He wasn't ready to have to defend them to a critical Vulcan.

"I need to clear my head," he muttered, rising from his chair. "Yoochun, you have the bridge."

He strode to the turbolift, nodding at his officers, while doing his best to avoid meeting Changmin's gaze. Riding to the lower decks, he took a deep breath and collected himself. He'd go to the dining hall, he decided. Get some coffee and maybe take the time to visit with other members of the crew. He'd forget about Changmin and his new eerie staring habit.

He might even make a point of checking in on Jaejoong, he thought as he strolled down the long corridors of the ship to the crew's mess. He was a member of Yunho's crew, after all, and he wouldn't ignore him just because Changmin disapproved.

He would, however, try to ignore the fact that the Vulcan had apparently followed him off the bridge.

The sound of Changmin's even, unhurried tread quickly grated on his nerves, though. Yunho sighed and turned to see his friend walking calmly a few yards behind him, hands clasped behind his back.

"Commander," he greeted.

"Captain," the other replied.

"May I help you with something?"

Changmin took his time coming closer, studying Yunho from head to foot. "We have a problem, Captain."

Yunho bit back the instinct to snap back No, we don't. Changmin would see any emotional response as further evidence of whatever theory he'd been mulling.

"What are you talking about?" he replied instead.

Changmin cocked his head. "These past few days you have been paying an increasing amount of attention to Jaejoong."

"Excuse me?"

"You've begun to allow him on the bridge when you're working, you've questioned the doctor about his health and vitals, and you've begun to take more and more of your meals with him."

"Are you stalking me, Min?"

"It's a small ship, Captain, and I am in charge of keeping it secure."

"Is commenting on my behavior part of keeping it secure?"

"That remains to be seen."

Yunho frowned and crossed his arms over his chest. "What are you getting at?"

Changmin watched him carefully. "Are you okay, Captain?"

"I'm fine; I'm just busy. We were nearly assimilated, in case you forgot," he answered. "It was … alarming."

Changmin nodded in agreement. "Very much so. Is that why you've become obsessed with Jaejoong?"

"I'm hardly obsessed," Yunho retorted. "And Jaejoong has nothing to do with anything. If — and that's a big 'if' — you've seen me paying more attention to him, it's because he's the only person on the ship with the expertise to help plan future defenses against the Borg."

"'Expertise,'" Changmin repeated with a frown. "Is that why he spent the night in your quarters?"

Yunho gaped at him. "Who told you about that?"

"Yoochun informed me."

"How did he know?!"

"Jaejoong told the doctor, who told him. They are both worried about how close you're growing with him."

"We're not close," Yunho groaned. "And even if we were, I don't see how that's any of your business."

"We are your friends."

Yunho sighed. Admitting his friendship with Yunho was as emotional as Changmin got. This was apparently a pressing concern for all of them. "He needs help — a lot of help. So, I help him, as I would anyone else on this ship."

"They are concerned for him, as well."

"Why?"

"He is very attached to you."

"I'm one of the few people on board who actually talks to him."

Changmin shook his head. "It's more than that. He favors you. He's told me so himself."

"Jealous?" Yunho asked cheekily.

Changmin stared at him evenly. "Not in the slightest."

"You're the one who told me to help him find his Humanity."

"I certainly didn't think you would take that to mean you should sleep with him."

Yunho slapped a hand over Changmin's mouth and pulled him into the nearest empty room, which turned out to be the unoccupied hydroponics bay.

"I didn't sleep with him," he hissed. "He slept on my couch, I slept in my bed. We woke up and I made us breakfast. That was it."

Changmin arched an eyebrow at him. (Damn those eyebrows, Yunho swore.) "That was it?"

"I hope you don't think so little of me as to imply I would have tried something with him."

"Nothing physical, perhaps. But something ... substantial occurred."

"Nothing happened," Yunho lied. "Nothing at all."

Changmin pressed his lips into a thin line. "I hope so, Captain. For both your and Jaejoong's sake."

"Is that all, Commander?"

Changmin watched him a moment, eyes unreadable. "There's one other thing. The anniversary is approaching."

Well, that wasn't what Yunho was expecting. "What? What are you talking about."

"It's been a year since the Battle of Wolf 359, has it not?"

Yunho paused, converting the current stardate to the Earth calendar. "You're right," he mumbled softly. "I guess ... I just lost track." An easy thing to do. On the ship, away from the natural signs of the passage of time — sunrise and sunset, and the changing seasons — it was easy for days to blur into weeks and weeks to blur into months.

"Do you expect your emotions to distract you from your duties?"

"Changmin," Yunho replied, annoyed.

"Humans put a lot of emphasis in commemorating horrific events they experience." The Vulcan frowned to himself. "A custom that seems extremely unproductive, if you ask me. I may not experience grief as you do; however, I do understand how the anniversary of the day you lost your family could be a painful thing."

"I can handle the anniversary fine, Min. You don't have to worry."

"Vulcans don't worry, Captain. It's pointless. We simply ... observe. And then prepare for all possible outcomes." He nodded farewell to Yunho before leaving to return to the bridge.

As Yunho watched him, he tried to convince himself that the warning he'd heard in Changmin's voice was all in his head.

+++

Yoochun longed for the day he was promoted to captain. There was something infinitely satisfying about being in control of so many moving parts: the crew, the ship, the strange new worlds. Starfleet was made up of some of the smartest minds and the most advanced technology in the galaxy. And he wanted to help lead them.

That isn't to say he disliked working under Yunho. He was an excellent captain and one of the better officers that Yoochun had served with. He knew his crew and his ship well and worked hard to make sure both were in top condition. That was why, Yoochun supposed, he was taking such good care of the former Borg drone.

It had been risky to agree to keep the thing on their ship, but it had paid off. Unfortunately, Yoochun didn't see any benefit in allowing him to trail after Yunho like some sort of lovesick puppy. He shook his head at the thought. He wasn't really sure what bothered him more: Jaejoong's clear attachment to the captain or the fact that Yunho was doing very little to dissuade it.

"Commander?" Hyoyeon called to him nervously. Yoochun looked, distracted from his thoughts, to see her hesitating outside the door of the open turbolift. His brow furrowed in confusion, and it wasn't until he stood that he was able to see the reason for her wariness: Jaejoong looking out from inside the lift and scanning the bridge crew expectantly.

"Jaejoong," Yoochun began, "what are you—"

"He's not here," Jaejoong interrupted. He fingered the implants on his wrist as his eyes flitted from one curious face to another.

Yoochun came closer, giving Hyoyeon's arm a comforting pat. "Who's not here?"

"The captain." A worried expression crossed Jaejoong's face as he took a step off the turbolift. "We can't find him."

Yoochun briefly considered reminding the other man he wasn't allowed on the bridge before deciding it wasn't worth it. "He's not due on the bridge today. Was he supposed to meet you?"

Jaejoong shook his head. "No. We— I just need to find him."

"Did you ask the computer?"

"It won't tell us. It says we don't have access to that information."

Yoochun frowned and went over to Changmin's tactical station. The only reason the computer would refuse to tell Jaejoong the captain's location would be because Yunho didn't want him — or anyone else who didn't need to know — where he was. Checking to make sure there were no security or medical alerts, he turned back to the worried former drone.

"Jaejoong, if the captain needs privacy, the best thing you can do is let him have it."

"But —"

Yoochun raised a hand, cutting him off. "Wherever he is, he doesn't need you whining after him. He can take care of himself. Understood?"

Jaejoong frowned, shaking his head. "What if he's hurt? What if he needs us? What—"

"Jaejoong," Yoochun interrupted, voice firm. "Do you understand?"

Jaejoong looked up to see the members of the bridge crew eyeing him warily. It wouldn't do to have the commander any more suspicious of him than he already was. He'd never be able to find Yunho if Yoochun decided to lock him in his quarters for the rest of the day.

"Understood." He nodded. He backed into the turbolift and waited as Hyoyeon cautiously stepped on.

"Jaejoong," Yoochun called out right before the doors slid shut. Jaejoong stuck his arm out to keep the doors from closing. "The ship would alert security and the doctor if he was hurt. When he comes back, I'll tell him you were looking for him, okay?"

Jaejoong didn't seem to get much comfort from that, but gave a short nod of acknowledgment. "Okay."

As the doors slid shut, Yoochun rolled his eyes in annoyance. The puppy had become a hunting dog, he thought wryly, and for a moment, he pitied the man that had become the object of a Borg's affection. If Jaejoong was still anything like the rest of the Collective, he wouldn't stop until he got his man.

+++

Jaejoong did not like eating (or simply being) alone. So, when Yunho didn't show up in the dining hall to meet him for lunch, he reacted as calmly as he could. He simply ran out the dining hall before searching the ship bow to stern for the other man. He'd waited outside Yunho's quarters, searched the labs and public areas, and walked laps around the ship keeping an eye out for him coming or going in the corridors. The bridge had been his final hope.

With his technology, Jaejoong could have easily hacked into the ship's computer system and tracked down the captain himself. But it was impossible to do without being detected, and he wasn't willing to snap the fragile trust that Yunho and the crew had in him.

He clenched his fists in frustration. These humanoids, he had learned, were a lot more crafty than he had originally thought. Something had been distracting Yunho and, while it appeared that both Junsu and Changmin knew why, neither of them would tell him anything.

He had tried observing Yunho for himself, watching him on the bridge and requesting his company as often as he thought he'd be able to get away with it. And while the captain had been as welcoming as ever, his behavior was becoming more guarded and more confusing. For every smile the other man gave him, there were many more puzzling looks and quickly-ended conversations.

And today, he was missing completely.

In his wanderings, Jaejoong found himself in front of the wide double doors that opened to the large holodeck. The last time he'd been the suite, it had been programed to resemble a large Earth beach.

He listened outside the doors for a moment. Whoever was inside wasn't relaxing on a beach, that was for certain. Through the heavy doors, Jaejoong could hear the sounds of ship alarms and phaser fire. He dismissed it and was considering where to search next, when he caught the final words of an all-too-familiar hail.

Resistance is futile.

Without another thought, he ordered open the doors and burst into the suite. He found himself on a smokey bridge, red alert sirens blaring and Starfleet officers swirling around him as they rushed to their stations. He panicked when he realized he couldn't find the the source of those words.

"Computer, freeze program," Yunho's voice shouted from somewhere in the hazy darkness.

Jaejoong whirled around to see the captain frowning at him from a small engineering station located toward the back of the bridge. He noted with some surprise that he was wearing a green science uniform instead of his usual red command one.

"Jaejoong, what are you doing here?"

"I was looking for you."

"Well, you found me. Do you need anything?"

"We … I was concerned. We were supposed to eat."

"I got busy."

Jaejoong frowned. "You're too busy for us?" he asked softly.

The question pricked at Yunho's conscience. "Not just you," he replied. He stepped away from his blinking engineering station and made his way closer to the other man. "Something came up, Jaejoong." He sighed and ran a hand through his mussed hair.

"This?" Jaejoong asked. He took in the destroyed bridge and the panicked state of the frozen holocharacters. "We thought Humans used holodecks for recreation. This doesn't look enjoyable." He turned to see the massive cube on the ship's view screen. Giving a strangled gasp, he reached back for Yunho's hand and clutched his wrist tightly.

"Relax," Yunho rushed to say. "This is all a hologram. Fake. They can't hurt you; they're not the real Borg."

"Not real? Why would you create a program with them? Is this a training simulation in case we run into them again?" Jaejoong looked around the larger, unfamiliar bridge and shook his head. "No, that can't be it. This is not the Valiant."

"This is the bridge of the USS Kyushu."

"We don't recognize the name of this ship."

Yunho nodded and turned to look back onto the wrecked bridge. "Not surprising. It was destroyed in battle."

"Battle?" Jaejoong repeated. A moment later, a look of both panic and anger crossed his face. "You are re-living the day we hurt you," he accused. "Why?"

Yunho looked away, face burning under Jaejoong's searching gaze.

"A lot of things have been on my mind these past few days, Jaejoong. A year ago, I was hurt by the Borg. And now they're trying to hurt me, hurt us all, again. I just … I wanted to see if things could have been different."

An uncharacteristic scowl marred Jaejoong's face. "Different? How?"

"I was just thinking about ... about the other day. About you and how you saved us all. I have to know. I have to know if I could have done the same."

"No." Jaejoong glared. "You couldn't have."

"I didn't try, Jaejoong. There may have been something I could have done."

"And if there were? What good is it to know about it now?"

Yunho ignored him and returned to his command console.

"You survived. That's all that matters."

"I should have done more. I was so focused on saving my own ass. I should have died protecting them."

"No," Jaejoong said, an uncharacteristic edge to his voice. "Your death would not have solved anything."

"Jaejoong, I was responsible for them. I brought them to the ship. I—"

"No, Captain! None of that is reason enough for you to die."

Yunho looked up, face hard. "I have to know, Jaejoong. You can either help me or leave."

Jaejoong knew he couldn't leave. He couldn't leave Yunho alone to replay his devastating run-in with the Collective. He didn't understand why the other man was doing this to himself: bringing up old pain and punishing himself by criticizing his actions on that day.

"We'll— I'll help you," he answered. "What do you want to me to do?"

"Just do what you did last time," Yunho ordered as he studied his read-outs. "Stay there and watch what's going on. Let me know if you see any way I can improve our ship or disrupt theirs."

Straightening, Yunho resumed tapping away at his station. "Computer, resume program."

The deafening blares of the ship's warning system returned and shouts rang out throughout the holodeck. Jaejoong struggled to regain his balance as the floor seemed to move about underneath him.

"This is surprisingly ... realistic," he shouted at Yunho. The captain nodded, still studying his screens.

"The program was created using the final data streams received from the Kyushu before its destruction."

Jaejoong slowly made his way over to where Yunho stood, grabbing on to nearby railings and command stations in an effort to keep his balance. The bridge of the Kyushu was nearly triple the size of the Valiant's and his progress seemed to take forever. He'd almost grabbed onto the large engineering console when a burly and stern-faced holocharacter came up from behind him to scowl at Yunho.

"Lieutenant!" the man nearly spat, "we could run away from them faster than this! Get us more speed."

"Lieutenant?" Jaejoong questioned. He studied the man closer and saw he was wearing captain's pips. Glancing back at Yunho, he was surprised to notice only two pips on his collar.

"I was a lieutenant in engineering when I served on the Kyushu," Yunho mumbled to Jaejoong. He turned his eyes up to acknowledge the angry holocharacter. "Trying, sir. The engines are already at their limits."

"I don't care if you have to get out and physically push," the holocaptain snapped. "Just make this thing go faster." He stormed away, rushing to badger the obviously panicked holocharacter stationed at tactical.

"You can't outrun them," Jaejoong offered simply. "The Valiant was only able to after I manually took control of its systems. An older and less-advanced ship would have no hope."

Yunho smiled bitterly. "This is about the time when I realized that."

The bridge shook, and Jaejoong could barely hear a woman shout that their shields had failed before a large explosion rocked the ship. He fell to the deck, grappling to try and stay upright. Jaejoong didn't think he could take much more of the noise. In the midst of the chaos, the voice of the computer rang out, issuing its warning with an inappropriate calm.

Warning: Anti-matter coolant leak in warp core. Core breach in five minutes.

"Computer, freeze program."

Blessed silence fell over the bridge and Jaejoong looked up to see Yunho, head bent and eyes closed. He remained like that a second longer before suddenly lashing out and hitting his console in frustration.

"The same damn thing," he muttered. "I've played out this scenario over and over and it always ends the same: our shields drop and our engines get destroyed."

Jaejoong took a cautious step closer. "It is the only result. This ship is not a threat to a fully functioning cube. It would have been easily neutralized."

"'Neutralized,'" Yunho repeated the word bitterly.

Jaejoong looked away from the hard scowl that Yunho now wore. The anger on his face reminded him too much of the captain he was when Jaejoong first came on board. He jumped slightly when Yunho punched the console again.

"I have to find them," Yunho mumbled to himself. "If I can't save the ship, I have to find them." He shot away from his station. "Computer, resume program." The head-splitting noise began again. Jaejoong covered his ears with his hands and hurried after him.

+++

The angry holocaptain had ordered the bridge crew to evacuate and a small crowd rushed to the bridge's four turbolifts. Yunho cursed upon discovering the lifts unresponsive. Undeterred, he pulled open the door leading to the Jeffries tube and quickly crawled inside.

Jaejoong clambered after Yunho, struggling not to lose his composure in the smothering confines of the narrow tube. The tubes were nearly pitch black, and Jaejoong could barely hear over the sounds of sirens and frantic crowds that echoed throughout the ship. After a few minutes of crawling, his disorientation began to make him feel nauseated.

"We are we going?" he shouted at Yunho. Uncertain of how far the other man was in front of him, Jaejoong was surprised to hear his voice come from only five feet from in front of him.

"We're heading to the ship's guest quarters. That's where my family is."

"How long will it take us to reach them?"

"They're 15 decks down on the other side of the ship. There are escape pods another two decks below that."

A couple seconds later, the calm voice of the computer spoke again.

Warning: Warp core breach in three minutes.

"Do you think we will make it in time?" Jaejoong asked.

Yunho didn't answer, and Jaejoong decided not to press it. He followed behind, struggling not to get left behind in the dark maze of tubes. Yunho was being reckless, Jaejoong decided. It was foolish to be crawling around the insides of this dying ship to look for two people who, if they had any sense, had more than likely already sought escape themselves.

"Captain, what if they've already left the ship? How will you find which pod they're in?"

"Stop talking, Jaejoong," Yunho snapped.

Warning: Warp core breach in two minutes.

Jaejoong wanted the noise to stop, he wanted the captain to stop acting so brash and he wanted for some blessed light to reach the interior of the dark tube. He was so miserable that he didn't notice that Yunho had stopped moving and ran right into his back.

He looked up, a sudden rush of heat blasting over his skin. He was finally able to see Yunho again, his face glowing in the light of a fire. Flames burned less than two feet in front of them behind a barely stable emergency containment field. The energy field protected them from most of the fire's heat and flames, but prevented them from going any farther. They'd hit a dead end.

"No," Yunho said at first, the word broken and quiet. "No!" Yunho punched wall of the Jeffries tube, and the loud bang reverberated and echoed in the darkness.

"Captain," Jaejoong began softly. "What do we do?"

Warning: Warp core breach in 90 seconds.

"Computer," Yunho said, voice rough. "Freeze program." He turned away from the flames. He sat, back leaning against the wall of the tube, and seemed to stare off into space. Jaejoong hovered nearby, unsure if Yunho would welcome his approach.

"Who knows how big this fire is," Yunho said softly to himself. "It could take all our time just to get around it. The tubes are the only way around the ship. If the lifts are down, the transporters would be down. I wouldn't be able to beam to another part of the ship. I can't save them." He looked up, meeting Jaejoong's eyes. "You saved an entire ship and I ... I can't save two people."

"The circumstances were not the same. You were in more imminent danger than we were."

“Sometimes," Yunho began with a broken laugh. "I wonder if it would have hurt less if they’d been assimilated. At least then they’d be alive.”

"Alive, but not living. And then once the Borg deemed them no longer useful, they would be deactivated."

Deactivated. Murdered, in other words. The image of his sister and fianceé as cold, dead drones came unbidden to his mind's eye and his heart twisted painfully. Jaejoong was right; assimilation would have destroyed the very essence of who they were. At least they got to die with their individuality, their Humanity, intact. A small desperate sob escaped his throat. They deserved so much more than that.

Jaejoong sat down beside him. "You're hurting again," he said softly.

Yunho squeezed his eyes shut. He refused to cry. He was done crying over this. This whole futile exercise felt foolish now. There was nothing that could bring them back. What good did he think would come of this?

"Tell us," Jaejoong implored.

"Tell you what?" Yunho asked, his voice a harsh whisper as he struggled to keep his emotions in check.

"The doctor has informed us that talking about traumatic incidents can help alleviate some of the pain they cause. That's why we came to you with our fears. Now let us— let me help you."

“No, Jaejoong. There's nothing that you or anyone can do to help, and I really don’t want to talk about it at all.”

“Repression does not appear to be a recommended coping technique.”

Yunho inhaled deeply, eyes still closed. “Well, it’s what has worked best.”

Jaejoong scooted closer, until his side was pressed along Yunho's. He grasped the other's hand and held it awkwardly. "That is unacceptable, Captain," he said quietly. "We don't like to see you in pain." He placed the palms of their hands together and laced their fingers. Giving the man's larger hand a firm squeeze, he held their joined hands close to his chest.

Yunho winced as the metal of Jaejoong's wrist implant dug into his skin. He could feel the press of the thin filaments that webbed out from his palm and laced up his long fingers.

“Do they hurt?” he asked softly, voice quiet.

"What?" Jaejoong asked, turning to look at him. 

"Your implants. Do they hurt?"

The other man shook his head. "No. Not anymore."

"Did they?"

"When we first received them, yes."

"When you were assimilated?"

Jaejoong shook his head again. "We were assimilated as a child. We didn't get these implants until we had matured."

"Well, then did it hurt to be assimilated?"

“We do not remember our own assimilation,” Jaejoong offered simply.

“You must have observed a few.”

“10,456,722 to be precise.”

Yunho’s stomach twisted uncomfortably as he tried to comprehend the sheer number. “You assimilated 10 million people?”

“I observed the assimilation of 10 million people. The number of people I assimilated personally is quite lower.”

“Well, what did you observe?”

“There was always a struggle until the new drone was connected to the hive mind.”

“What, then they were suddenly cooperative?”

“No, but their individual will was … lost. Crushed by the billions of voices in the Collective."

“What else do you remember?”

Jaejoong looked away, obviously uncomfortable. “Nothing from before I left the maturation chamber. Everything once I did.”

“Maturation chamber?”

“That’s where children are placed until they able to be assimilated into fully developed drones,” Jaejoong explained.

“You spent your childhood in some chamber?”

"How else would it have been spent? We were of no use to anyone until we were fully developed."

In the flickering darkness of the tube, Jaejoong could make out Yunho's face as the anger softened into heartbreak. "You would have spent it the way you wanted."

"There is no use mourning over something that cannot be changed, Captain."

"I can still hate them," Yunho said, softly.

"We understand."

Yunho shook his head. "No, Jaejoong, I … I hate them. I want them all to suffer. I want them all to be destroyed. I want for every single one of them to get crushed by a collapsing star or irradiated until they bleed our of their damn implants. To be ripped apart like they do to others." Yunho's voice had grown painfully harsh and Jaejoong gave his hand another squeeze. 

He took a shaky breath as he looked over at the other man. "But," he continued, "but then I look at you and I get … I feel so … guilty."

"You have done nothing but help us, Captain," Jaejoong murmured. "There is no need for you to feel guilt about your hatred for the Borg."

Yunho shook his head. "I don't feel guilty because I hate them; I feel guilty because I—" Yunho stopped himself short.

Jaejoong bit his lip. "You what?"

"I ... need you. I don't know how to explain it," Yunho tried to pull away from Jaejoong's grasp, embarrassed by his own admission. Jaejoong's grip was steadfast, however. He wasn't letting the captain go anywhere. "You give me hope," he said softly. He turned to stare in to the darkness of the Jeffries tube. "It sounds stupid, but the only reason I even thought this program was a good idea was because of you. You've fought the Borg, you've survived assimilation, you've ... made my nightmares seem like something I could overcome."

"We just did what you asked us to," Jaejoong replied. "Everything we've done was because of you."

Yunho turned back to look at him, the same indecipherable look on his face that Jaejoong had been puzzling over for days. It didn't linger as long this time and Yunho gave him a small grin before sighing and closing his eyes. Jaejoong watched over him as he sat in a morose silence.

"Captain?" Jaejoong asked a few minutes later, when he could no longer take the stifling confines of the Jeffries tube.

"Hmmm?" Yunho replied. Their fingers still entwined, he ran his thumb over the back of Jaejoong's hand.

"I still want lunch."

Yunho laughed. It was weak and a bit sad, but Jaejoong relished it all the same. 

"Computer, end program." The tube disappeared at Yunho's command, leaving the two men sitting on the floor of the empty holodeck. Yunho stood, pulling Jaejoong up behind him, and was rendered speechless when Jaejoong stepped closer to wrap him in an awkward hug.

"What are you doing?" he whispered. He fidgeted in Jaejoong's too-tight embrace.

"I want to help you the way you helped me," Jaejoong answered, warm breath tickling Yunho's ear. "You held me and it made me feel better." He held Yunho tighter.

"Captain, we don't know anything about family or responsibility. But we know you, and your life is valuable." He swallowed past the lump in his throat. He didn't understand why it was proving increasingly difficult to talk nor why his eyes were beginning to feel as if they were burning. "As Borg, we never understood the attention other species paid to individuals. Why they fought us so hard. But ... we get it with you. We have known the minds of billions of individuals ... and none of them are as special to us, to me, as you."

Hesitantly, Yunho returned the hug, wrapping his arms around the other's thin torso. He hadn't realized how badly he'd needed to hear that until that moment. How badly he needed someone to tell him that his life was important too.

"Thank you," he said. "For everything."

When Jaejoong released him, he didn't let go. Instead, he pressed his body closer, looking up to stare into his dark eyes. All the things Jaejoong knew, all the people he had met, none of it was as important as him. It was humbling. He pressed their foreheads close, the cool metal of Jaejoong's eye implant sending a small shiver down his back.

“What are you doing?” Jaejoong whispered. He sounded unsure and a bit afraid, but he didn’t let go of Yunho’s waist.

Noses pressed close and lips hovering close together, Yunho gave a small grin. "Flirting," he whispered.

Jaejoong swallowed, and Yunho watched as his Adam’s apple bobbed up and then down. "We ... I don't know how to do that."

A warm hand settled on Jaejoong's neck and long fingers threaded themselves in his hair. "I'll show you," Yunho whispered before leaning forward to press his lips against Jaejoong's. They tasted better than any strawberry. He could feel the other man stiffen in his arms and he held on tighter.

Jaejoong knew the basics of Human sexuality, even if he didn't always understand the more social subtleties. He knew that what he and the captain were doing was something couples often did to show affection. He knew the mechanics behind physical intimacy and everything it entailed. Still, the rush of sensations that he felt nearly threatened to overwhelm him. The feel of the captain's lips against his, the press of his warm skin, the fingers that scratched gently at his neck. He'd never in his life, in his entire existence with the Collective, felt another person's being like this. It shook him to his core.

Yunho ended the gentle kiss and pressed his forehead against Jaejoong's, staring into his eyes. Pupils blown wide, the other man simply stared back. Soon, however, a red flush stole across his face and he glanced — none to subtly, either — at Yunho's lips. Encouraged, Yunho placed a quick chaste kiss on his lips. When Jaejoong didn’t get it, he kissed him again. This time, tilting his head to fit better against his. It was short — lasting no more than a second or two. He pulled back again, and waited, eyes inviting.

A moment later, the tension in the former drone's body seemed to drain out of his understanding dawned on him. He moved forward to kiss Yunho, copying his moves exactly, tilting Yunho’s head and pressing his lips in the same way the captain had done to him. His kiss was awkward and eager, and his hands held on to Yunho too firmly in an attempt to get closer. It was exactly how Yunho would imagine a Borg would kiss.

They went on like that, a slow, exploratory back and forth where Yunho demonstrated and Jaejoong repeated. To his credit, Jaejoong was a fast learner. When Yunho’s tongue swiped across his lips, his responded in kind. When Yunho’s hands traced the long, flat band of wires along Jaejoong’s spine, he could feel fingers trailing their way up his back.

Emboldened by Jaejoong’s touch, he wanted more, to feel more. He pulled away, and the heat he felt when his eyes came upon Jaejoong’s kiss-swollen lips sent him fumbling for more. Nimble fingers began undoing the buttons of Jaejoong's large navy blue tunic. Nervously, Jaejoong shrunk back until his back hit the wall of the holodeck. He clenched the collar of his shirt closed and looked away, shame marring his features.

"Don't, Captain. We are damaged."

"I've seen your implants before," Yunho whispered gently.

"Not all of them." Jaejoong wouldn't look at him. "The doctor was unable to safely remove the implants that protect our heart and lungs. Our chest still looks Borg. I don't want you to see."

Yunho slowly approached the other man. Gently taking his hands from the front of his now twisted shirt front, he raised the left one to his lips and kissed the top of the implant that encased his wrist. He brushed his lips along the thin lines that traveled down his and to the tips of his fingers, eyes locked onto Jaejoong's the whole time.

When he finished that, he leaned in, pressing a line of kisses along the top of the implant above Jaejoong's eye. As he trailed more kisses along his hairline, down his jaw and into his neck, his hands hovered above Jaejoong's heart.

"Please, baby?" he asked, warm breath tickling Jaejoong's throat. "Let me see you. Please?" It took a moment and a few more soft kisses, but he heard the quiet sigh of Jaejoong's assent. His fingers made quick work of opening his shirt, and this time, Jaejoong didn't fight him.

Jaejoong was deathly pale, the result of a lifetime spent in a dark Borg cube in space. His wounds, many of which were still healing, were ugly and painful-looking. Scars ran in ragged parallel lines under his collarbone and across his dark nipples. In the center, right about his heart, sat a flat, dense piece of metal. It was attached to his body through sharps edges which pierced his skin.

Yunho placed a gentle hand onto the warm metal and was surprised to feel Jaejoong's heart beating underneath. Easing the shirt off his shoulders, he ran his hands along Jaejoong’s back and immediately felt the chill of the long, flat implant that lay parallel to his spinal cord. He felt, as well as heard, the quick intake of breath Jaejoong took when he laid his palm flat against the small of his back.

"You feel Human to me," he said quietly, pressing close to whisper into the shell of Jaejoong's ear. His hand moved lower, fingers splaying across his lower back. "Warm and Human." He brought his hand back up and ran a thumb along the edge of the large chest implant, frowning at the feel of hard metal against soft flesh. He paused when he felt Jaejoong’s hands pressing against the muscles in his back tentatively. Dark eyes looked into his, asking permission.

“You can touch,” he whispered, the air they shared hot and smothering. “Learn what a Human feels like.” And as Jaejoong's touch grew more bold, he melted, pressing himself into the other man, breathing quickening as his uniform and undershirt were pulled up and hands slid underneath. Jaejoong’s touch was a paradox. Hot flesh surrounded by cool metal. A shy hand that knew the muscles and bones of the body as well as any doctor. He shuddered as those hands swooped low coming around his waist and circling around the skin at his navel.

Fingers skimmed along the edge of his waistband and Yunho couldn’t take the teasing for long. He unzipped the black slacks and loosened his pants. His breath began to come in quick gasps as he felt Jaejoong’s unique touch trail along his sides and dip low on his hips.

“You are so fragile, Captain. There is nothing protecting you from harm.”

“Yunho,” he corrected. “That’s my name. Call me Yunho.”

“Yunho,” Jaejoong repeated. "We want to protect you, Yunho."

Yunho leaned forward for another kiss and whispered his name against parted lips. Jaejoong, Jaejoong, thank you, Jaejoong.

Cool hands continued to run up and down his sides, and Yunho bucked suddenly into Jaejoong when a hand strayed to low and brushed along the front of his clothed cock. Jaejoong's eyes met his, curiosity evident in their dark depths. Hand shoved deeper into the front of Yunho's pants, he ran his palm slowly along the thin fabric covering his manhood. A low, breathy moan escaped his lips as he thrust uselessly into Jaejoong's hand.

"We did not expect that," he said, slightly in awe of the power he had over Yunho.

"Neither did I," Yunho laughed. He pressed a kiss into Jaejoong's smiling face, this one longer and deeper than any of their previous shy caresses.

So focused on each other as they were, neither heard the chime of the holodeck doors as they whooshed open.

"Captain," a familiar scolding voice stated.

Startled, Yunho released Jaejoong quickly before moving to stand protectively in front of him. With an embarrassed after thought, he zipped his pants back up and fixed his uniform shirt.

"Commander," he began, using his intimidating captain's voice.

“I’m sorry to interrupt,” Changmin said. (He didn't sound very sorry.) His glare softened as he took in Jaejoong’s unabashedly happy face peeking from over Yunho's shoulder. “You have call.”

“Take a message and have them call back.”

“Unfortunately, I can’t do that. The call is from Earth. It’s Starfleet Command.” 

Chapter Text

If there was one thing Yunho was good at, it was playing politics. It wasn’t a skill he was proud of, but it was what had gotten him his own ship at such a young age. He knew whom to schmooze to, who to show off to and who to befriend. Which was why he was never worried when the admirals from Starfleet Command called upon him. It was usually to seek his counsel on some scientific matter or to gauge his interest on upcoming missions.

However, as he made his way to his ready room, straightening his uniform and wiping the feel of Jaejoong’s kiss off his lips, he couldn’t help but feel like a wayward child being called on by the principal.

Changmin hadn’t said anything about the situation he’d walked in on, but Yunho was certain he disapproved. The Vulcan was a proper man and followed regulations to the letter. Necking with crew members who were technically patients who were technically prisoners was not appropriate behavior for a captain. Especially not one that Changmin considered a friend.

“I’ll accompany Jaejoong to sickbay,” he’d told Yunho before he left to take the call.

“Thank you,” Yunho replied. “We’ll speak later.”

“Yes, Captain,” he’d replied. “We will.”

The statement hung in the air, more of a promise than a threat, but Yunho decided to ignore it.

He nearly jogged to his ready room, nerves propelling him to move faster than usual. Settling at his desk, he tapped at the screen and felt his stress fade away at the sight of the scowling face of Starfleet’s most prickly admiral.

"That bar looks so good on you," Yunho greeted with a smirk.

Heechul rolled his eyes. The light from his desk lamp glinting off the gold of his admiral's rank bar. "Please shut up."

"I'm just paying you a compliment," he replied. “I know not as many people get to see you nowadays, and I don’t want your poor ego to feel neglected.”

“You’re an asshole.”

“A well-traveled asshole.” Yunho leaned back in his desk chair and crossed his arms. “I still can’t believe Kim Heechul left space to lead the fleet from behind a desk.”

"I wasn't given much of a choice. If I hadn't taken the promotion, they would have given it to some idiot Vulcan.”

“I never knew you were the type to be prejudiced.”

Heechul harrumphed. “I love Vulcans,” he explained. “They’re a logical and proud people ... but they’re also damned annoying.”

“I’ll tell Changmin you send your love," Yunho replied with a laugh.

The admiral ignored the quip. “I'm glad to see you accepted your promotion, as well."

"It was a bit of a surprise. I didn't expect to make captain for a few years yet."

Heechul shrugged. "We lost a lot of good officers last year. You're one of our best. There was no use waiting for you to get more experience. We needed you now and I made sure everyone knew that."

Yunho saluted. "Well, thank you, admiral."

"I'm serious. Shut up with that admiral business. I have enough people kissing my ass around here. I don't need to try and make room for you, too."

Yunho smirked. Heechul was in no way a model admiral, and personally, Yunho couldn't believe he'd accepted the position. Sitting at a desk on a safe space station was so unlike his friend, a man who craved the attention and glory that space exploration brought.

"As nice as it is to speak with you, we do have official business to take care of," Heechul continued.

"I figured as much," Yunho said with a nod. "And I bet I can guess what that business is."

"That's why I like talking with you, Yunho. There's no bullshit. You have a Borg prisoner. An unassimilated drone."

Yunho squirmed a bit. It was true that in their reports back to Starfleet Command, Jaejoong had been listed as a prisoner. Considering how much he'd done for the crew, however, the description felt wholly inaccurate.

"Yes, we have a Borg on board. I’m surprised it’s taken you all so long to ask about him."

"We’ve been busy,” Heechul offered. “Is it true he helped you evade an attack by a cube?"

"Yes," Yunho nodded. "We wouldn't have survived without him."

Heechul nodded to himself before leaning forward to read one of the dozens of PADDs that covered his desk. "That's what you wrote in your report. Was it a challenge to convince him to help you?"

"No. Jaejoong is invested in the safety of the ship."

Heechul frowned. "'Jaejoong?'"

"That's ... his name."

The frown grew deeper. "You named it?"

"Not really. He sort of came with the name." Yunho tried not to fidget under Heechul’s accusatory stare. His nerves returned as he realized that maybe he was sharing too much, too soon.

"You mean the Borg gave it to him?"

"No," Yunho replied. "His parents did."

“And how did you find that out?”

“Our doctor found records. His parents were Federation citizens.”

“So you have a pet Borg with a name? I take it he’s not spending the night in your brig?”

“We gave him quarters," Yunho admitted.

Heechul steepled his fingers and seemed to dwell on his own thoughts before looking back up to meet the other's gaze. “This is all a shock, Yunho.”

“What did you expect?”

"He's a security risk. I expected him to be treated as one."

“He is. He’s accompanied at all times when he’s not in his quarters or in sickbay, we run long-range scans every hour to ensure that there are no Borg cubes in our vicinity, and he reports directly to me each day. ”

“How has your crew taken to him?”

“There was an incident. I handled it. You can read about it in my logs.”

“That should have been in your initial report.”

"Did you call to scold me?"

Heechul lifted his chin and looked down his nose at Yunho. He wasn’t speaking as a friend anymore; he was speaking as a commanding officer. “I've called to tell you that you and your ship need to return to space dock immediately.”

"Has something happened?"

"The Borg threat has increased in Federation space. Your little ‘prisoner,’” Heechul nearly spat the word, “has the intelligence we need to fight them off."

"What's going to happen to him?"

“That's classified. However, I can tell you that everything we do will be for the security of the Federation and its citizens."

Yunho looked up and met the other man’s eyes in an pleading stare. "I thought there was no bullshit between us, Heechul," he said quietly.

The other man considered this, before sighing and looking away. "He'll be briefed and then we'll go from there."

"’Go from there?’ What does that mean exactly?"

When Heechul didn’t reply, Yunho made a final attempt to appeal to his friend's sense of loyalty. “Heechul, please. I deserve to know. Tell me.”

Hesitating a moment, Heechul finally met his eyes before answering. "He’ll more than likely be detained by security forces."

Detained meant imprisoned, sent to one of any number of penal colonies the Federation maintained near the edges of their space. Jaejoong, barely socialized and still carrying the obvious scars of his time with the Borg, wouldn’t last a day. It would be like throwing a lamb into a den of wolves.

“He’s not a threat to anyone,” Yunho insisted.

“He’s Borg,” Heechul shot back.

“Not completely. Not anymore.”

“He’s committed crimes as part of the Collective. He must pay for them.”

"Things aren’t that simple. You send him into a prison colony as he is, you know what will happen. He doesn’t deserve that.”

“Who am I talking to?” Heechul asked, scorn and surprise evident in his voice. “Are you forgetting what we’re talking about? It’s a drone." Heechul's voice oozed with contempt. "A member of the species that killed our colleagues. Our friends. A year ago, you would have said being allowed to live in a colony would have been more than it deserved.”

“Things have changed,” Yunho said firmly. “And I guess I have, too.”

Heechul studied him for a moment before a spark of understanding lit his eyes. "You’re worried about him."

Yunho didn’t want to admit it to Heechul — he couldn’t afford for his superiors to learn that he’d began to care for his charge — but, he couldn’t deny it, either.

“He has special needs,” Yunho explained. “You can’t leave him alone. He doesn’t do well in crowds, either. He can’t defend himself. Sometimes, you have to remind him to eat —”

“You make him sound like a child. Your earlier report stated that he attacked you, Changmin and your doctor.”

"I told you, things aren’t that simple. He was still assimilated when we found him and brought him onto the ship. Our doctor has been working with him, helping him to be Human again. He's learning how to interact with other Humans, to help out on the ship —"

“How much does he know?” Heechul interrupted suddenly, voice taking a sharp edge.

“What do you mean?”

“The ship? Your crew? Our technology? What does he know?”

Yunho considered how much he should reveal. “He’s organized our logs and mission findings for us. He’s spent considerable time in our sickbay and has been on our bridge. He had to tap into the ship’s systems in order to get us away from the cube.”

"You gave him access to your ship's systems?"

Yunho frowned. "I ordered him to do whatever it would take to help us escape. It was either that or be assimilated."

“Yunho,” Heechul scolded harshly. “How could you be so reckless?”

"Have you already forgotten what it's like out here? We're months away from our own space. Still almost a year away from our own security forces. We did what we had to do."

“How do you know he can be trusted with that information?”

“He can,” Yunho insisted.

“How do you know?” Heechul pressed, voice rising. “How do you know some implant in his brain won’t get triggered and turn him into a drone again? How do you know the Borg haven’t been spying on him this whole time and keeping track of everything he’s learned? How do you know acting weak and defenseless isn’t some new scheme by the Collective to lower our guard and infiltrate our space?”

“Starfleet trusts me to captain this ship, don’t they? So why are they doubting my judgment about this single Borg? He’s not a threat,” Yunho repeated. “He can help us, but he won’t be able to if he’s beaten to death by some mob while working the fields at some prison colony!”

"Yunho, I know you. I know you’re a good man and I know you’d never willingly endanger your crew. But …”

“But, what?”

“I’m beginning to wonder if maybe … “ Heechul slumped back in his desk chair and stared regretfully at Yunho. “If maybe I was wrong. Maybe you weren’t ready to be captain. You have the skills, there’s no doubt. But clearly, you may lack some of the tactical insight we need.”

“Heechul,” Yunho began. The admiral raised a hand to cut him off.

“Order your crew to plot a course for Starfleet Headquarters immediately. Both you and your prisoner will be interrogated upon your return.”

+++

Yoochun loved love. He loved falling in love, being in love and making love. He’d had a lot of experience in the latter area, and had done quite well in many of his xenobiology and anatomy classes back at the Academy thanks to the one-on-one “tutoring” he’d received from his Vulcan, Klingon, Andorian, Bajoran and various other lovers. The physical differences between the species were meant to be enjoyed, or so he believed. Make love and not war and all of that.

But that didn’t mean he didn’t appreciate the familiarity of a Human’s body.

“Commander?” the endearing voice of the ship’s doctor cut through his thoughts. “Are you sure you’re not bored? I understand if you have somewhere else you’d rather be. It’s probably not much fun hanging around and watching me organize the bay.”

Yoochun grinned as he watched Junsu stretch to place a box of supplies on the top shelf of a medical supply cabinet. He raked his eyes up and down the lean frame.

“I have no where to be, Doc,” he said, stretching back on an empty biobed. A flash of skin peeked out from underneath Junsu’s shirt as he stood on his tip-toes to push the box further back on the shelf. “And you’re a lot more fun than you think you are.”

Oblivious to Yoochun's roaming eye, Junsu turned to give him a shy grin. Yoochun returned the gesture, but the smile dropped from his face when the sickbay doors whooshed open as Jaejoong walked into the bay.

The former drone was beaming, practically glowing, in fact, and Yoochun couldn’t help the snort of amusement as he watched Jaejoong pace the small area, a restless bounce in his step. He’d stop, stare at the bay doors, before resuming his aimless pacing once again.

“Jaejoong,” Junsu greeted him with a smile. “Good afternoon.”

“Hello, Doctor,” the other replied back, sparing the two other men only a passing glance before turning to stare at the closed bay doors. Yoochun couldn’t help but notice the small grin that flitted on his face.

"You seem to be in a good mood," he commented, somewhat suspiciously.

“We’re happy," Jaejoong said easily.

Junsu smiled at his patient's cheerfulness. "Oh? Why?"

"The captain kissed me. And we kissed him back."

The stack of glass vials that Junsu had been holding shattered loudly as they fell to the ground. He turned to stare at Jaejoong.

“What did you say?” Yoochun asked standing.

"You … you kissed the captain?" Junsu repeated.

Jaejoong nodded. "Yes. It was …" he brought his fingers to his lips. "… fascinating."

"Did he … " Junsu flushed as he struggled to form his question. "Did he kiss you or did he kiss you?”

“What’s the difference?” Jaejoong asked, curious.

“Where did he kiss you?” Yoochun asked. “On your cheek? Your forehead?”

“No,” Jaejoong replied with a shake of his head. “He kissed our lips and neck. He touched our chest.” He placed his hand above his heart before lowering it to his hip. “And we touched his —”

“Jaejoong!” Junsu interrupted with a scandalized yelp. “I don't think that was a good idea."

Jaejoong's brow furrowed in confusion. "Why not?"

Flustered, Junsu led Jaejoong to the biobed Yoochun had vacated and sat down beside him.

"You've been a prisoner of the Borg for more than 20 years," Junsu explained. "You've been with us for three months. You shouldn't rush into something you may not fully understand."

Jaejoong frowned. "What don't we understand?"

"A lot. Kissing, the emotions involved … they can be messy."

"We want to make the captain happy. Kissing him seemed to make him happy. It was very simple."

"It's simple now. Jaejoong, what happens when it's time for you to leave our ship? Do you think he’ll be happy then? Will you be?"

"We aren't leaving soon," Jaejoong insisted.

"But you will be," Yoochun said firmly. "You forget, this isn't a cruise ship and you're not a permanent member of this crew."

"We haven't forgotten," Jaejoong answered. "We can be happy with the captain now and we will adapt when we have to leave."

Junsu shook his head. "That won't be easy. Jaejoong, I know you care a great deal for the captain, but that's only because you don't know much better. He's the first Human you've met and he's done a great deal to help you—"

"No," Jaejoong said with a fierce shake of his head. "The captain was not the first Human we met.” He pointed to Yoochun. “We met the commander first. And then you. We also met the Vulcan Changmin."

Junsu sighed. "Jaejoong, I didn't mean that literally—"

"And we don't care for him just because he helped us; we care for him because he needs our help."

Yoochun crossed his arms. “Jaejoong, if you do care for him, you’ll leave him alone.”

Jaejoong turned to face Yoochun, but was unable to meet his stern glare. “You don’t like us,” he said softly. “You barely tolerate us. If we leave the captain alone, then you don’t have to deal with us.”

“It’s more than that. Yunho is my friend. For reasons I don’t understand, he thinks of you as a friend, too, and I don’t want to have to watch him get hurt again.”

“We want to fix what the Borg did to him. We won’t hurt him.”

“You will if you allow him to get too close while knowing full well you won’t be staying on the ship. Don’t put him in that position.”

The happiness that Jaejoong had radiated moments before seemed to have evaporated away and Yoochun couldn't help the twinge of guilt that seemed to pull on his conscience.

"Jaejoong," he asked suddenly, the harshness in his voice replaced with a tired resignation. "Do you even know what it is you want from the captain?"

The ex-drone eyed him cautiously. "A trick question?"

"No. I just want to make sure you understand the situation you're putting both of yourselves in."

He shrugged. "We just want to be wherever he is. We don't feel as … alone with him. And we want him to be happy."

"How selfless of you," the commander deadpanned.

"Not completely. We need him to be happy so he doesn't hate the Borg. We need to make him happy so he doesn't hate us.”

“Jaejoong,” Junsu said softly. He moved closer to brush dark bangs from Jaejoong’s eyes. “He doesn't hate you. None of us do. We’re just worried. About both of you. I don’t want you to get hurt, either.”

“The captain won’t hurt us,” Jaejoong said, thinking back to the reverent way Yunho had touched him — all of him, metal implants and flesh — on the holodeck. He placed a hand over his heart again and ran a finger along the edge of the dense plate. “He can’t hurt us. And we don’t want to hurt him.”

“Then you need to stay away from him,” Yoochun said. “He’ll understand.”

"Cmdr. Park, please," Junsu said, giving Yoochun a chastising look before placing a warm hand on Jaejoong’s back. “Jaejoong,” he began, voice low and soothing. “You can still be with the captain. He's your friend. But take things slower. You don’t want to do anything you or he might regret.”

“Regret?”

“He may have kissed you,” Yoochun began. “But he might not have wanted to kiss you.”

“He did,” Jaejoong insisted. He remembered the smile Yunho had given him shortly before placing his lips over his. “He was happy.”

Yoochun’s mouth was set in a firm line. “Fine. But that doesn’t mean he’ll want to do it again.”

"That's true," Jaejoong replied, meeting Yoochun's stare with a bold one of his own, "but if he does, we'll let him."

+++

It’s amazing how quickly life could change.

A few hours ago, he was pressed up against Jaejoong, the demons of his past disappearing with the same ease the holographic bridge did. Now, he was arranging to turn his ship around to return to Federation space, a formal inquiry and a future that may include an imprisoned Jaejoong.

One small step forward, two large leaps back.

He flopped back on his small couch and sighed. Even as strange a notion as it sounded, kissing Jaejoong hadn’t felt wrong. Nothing he'd done for him had ever felt wrong and that included allowing him out of the brig, trusting him as a part of his crew and sharing with him his painful insecurities. Each time he'd helped him, Yunho had felt a small part of himself heal, too.

He still wasn’t entirely sure what he felt for the ex-drone. It wasn’t quite love (not yet), but it was stronger than friendship. It was something more innocent than lust, but with more desire than mere protectiveness.

He laughed at that notion. Him, protecting a Borg. Jaejoong didn't need his help. He was physically stronger and, thanks to the Collective, infinitely more knowledgable. He was a gift, a small miracle and the one thing that made Yunho realize there was a fighting chance against the Borg. Now if only his superiors would realize it.

He pressed a hand against his temple. Thinking about the mess he had waiting for him back home was giving him a massive headache. Not only was his head killing him, so was his body. Escaping a burning bridge, even a fake one, was an exhausting exercise, and he had worn out muscles he forgot he even had. Lying back, he covered his eyes with his arm and lowered the lights.

His short rest was quickly interrupted by the chirping of his door.

“Come,” he commanded, still covering his eyes.

“Yunho,” he heard Jaejoong greet shyly. “It's us.”

Yunho looked up, caught off guard by the familiar use of his name, to see Jaejoong standing alone outside his door. When Yunho didn’t answer right away, Jaejoong took a hesitant step into the dimly lit room.

"Captain?" he tried again. The worry on his face was easy to see, even through the shadows. "Are you okay?"

"Yes." Yunho sat up and motioned toward the couch. "Sit down, Jaejoong," he said softly. The other made his way quietly through the dark room and gingerly sat on the edge of the couch. Yunho hesitated a moment before meeting his curious eyes. "We've been called back to Federation space," he said without preamble.

A bubble of relief swelled in Jaejoong's chest. Federation space. Away from the Borg. Yunho would be safe there.

"That’s good news. It’s what we wanted."

Yunho smiled to himself. "I know. You always somehow get what you want."

Jaejoong frowned, sensing Yunho’s anxiety. "You’re not happy about this?"

"Not really. We won't be able to complete our mission. Not right away, at least."

“Your mission was reckless,” Jaejoong scolded. “The Federation shouldn't be sending ships this far into deep space without proper defenses.”

Yunho laughed in spite of himself. “You make sure you tell them that,” he said with a grin.

“We’ll get the chance to speak with them?”

“Yes.” Yunho sighed and played with a loose thread along the edge of the couch cushion. “That’s why they’ve called us back. They’ve taken a special interest in you.”

"Us? But, what about your crew?"

"They’ll be spoken to briefly, and then more than likely given a new assignment."

"What about us ... me?"

"I don't know."

"Since your mission will be cut short, will we be able to stay with you?" Jaejoong said with hesitation.

“No, Jaejoong.”

Jaejoong considered this for a moment and then shook his head. “No.”

“‘No,’ what?”

“No, we don't want to speak with them. It's too soon. We weren't supposed to have to leave your ship for another year.”

“Jaejoong, you don’t have a choice. ”

Jaejoong frowned. “Yes, we do. We— I’m Human now. I’m an individual. I do with my life what I want. That’s what you said. And I want to be with you.”

“Jaejoong,” Yunho said, voice careful. “You don’t know what you’re saying.”

Anger flashed in Jaejoong eyes. "Why does everyone tell us that? We aren't stupid."

“Jaejoong, what had you planned to do when you reached Earth?”

He shrugged. “We planned to be with you,” he answered simply.

Yunho waved the answer away. “Beyond that. What would you do? What could you do? Where would you live? What plans have you made that don’t include me?”

“None,” Jaejoong answered after a moment. Yunho tried to ignore how small he sounded. “We’ve never had to plan anything before, Captain. Not on our own.”

Yunho lounged back with a tired sigh. “You can’t hide from Starfleet, Jaejoong. And I don’t know if I can betray years of training and service to keep you from them. There’s no other choice; you have to go back and you have to do what they tell you.”

“Will they hurt us?”

“No. I can promise you that. They won’t hurt you. They’ll ask you questions and then they’ll … take you some place safe.”

“Will they hurt you?”

“No. No one will get hurt.”

“Will people … dislike you? For helping us?”

“Helping you was the right thing to do,” Yunho said evenly. “It doesn’t matter what other people think.”

"Will they dislike you?" Jaejoong insisted.

Yunho thought back to Heechul's reaction and even further back to Eeteuk’s anger when Yunho had stepped between his gun and Jaejoong."Some people will."

“We don’t wish to cause you embarrassment.”

“You’ve done a lot of things to me, Jaejoong, but you’ve never been an embarrassment.”

Jaejoong dropped his gaze. "That's good to hear. I was worried. The doctor said you might regret what we did."

At that, Yunho froze. "You … you told the doctor?"

Jaejoong nodded. “The commander was surprised as well.”

“What exactly did you tell the both of them?” Yunho asked, voice sharper than he intended.

Jaejoong look taken aback for a moment. “That you kissed me,” he answered. Yunho couldn’t make out his face, his bangs hiding him in dark shadows. “And that it made us happy. But if you didn’t like it, we’ll just forget it.”

Yunho reached out to place gentle fingers on Jaejoong’s chin. "It made me happy," he said softly, forcing the other to meet his gaze. "But ... I’m not entirely sure if it was a good idea.”

Jaejoong felt his heart drop. “Why not?”

Yunho dropped his hand away and turned to stare at the floor. “You’ll have enough to deal with without me making things worse.”

After a moment's silence, Yunho jumped when he felt a hand reach out and thread long fingers into his hair.

“Do you know where we would be if you hadn’t found us?” Jaejoong asked. He didn’t give Yunho time to answer. “Dead. We’d be dead and no one would mourn for us. That would be worse.” His hands continued their gentle discovery of Yunho’s hair, trailing down to pet the ends at the nape of his neck. He marveled at the feel of it, thick and smooth. “Speaking with you, we have realized how much …” his breath caught and he pulled his hand away. Yunho grabbed it.

“You realized what?” he asked. He laced their fingers together. “You can tell me.”

“How much we’ve lost.” He squeezed the warm hand held in his. “While watching you try to save your family, we realized how little help we were to our own. Our parents. Our sisters. Do you think they fought that hard to save us … to save me?"

"I'm sure they did."

"We know we won't be able to stay with you, Yunho. The doctor and Cmdr. Park reminded us of that. Now you tell us we won't even get to be with you a year." He looked up and met Yunho's gaze straight on, a sadness in his eyes that cut Yunho right down to his bones. "We understand now what you meant when you said the Borg took your future."

"You still have it, Jaejoong. I'll do whatever I can to help you. I promise."

Jaejoong looked at him, a small grateful smile gracing his lips. "Thank you, Yunho." Releasing Yunho's hand, he bit his lips nervously. "May we ask for one more thing?"

"Anything."

Without another word, Jaejoong leaned forward, and for the second time that day, his cool lips were on Yunho's. Unlike their first kiss, this one was desperate and sad. Jaejoong pressed close, his awkward hands fumbling to touch as much skin as possible. Fingers scraped against the back of Yunho's neck, his cheeks, his arms, before fisting into Yunho's shirt, pulling him close. Jaejoong wasn't a skilled kisser; he had to pull away to give Yunho multiple kisses along his lips, his jaw, his neck. In his passion, he didn't check his strength and practically pulled Yunho on top of him.

Breaking the kiss and nearly straddling Jaejoong, Yunho looked down into the other's worried eyes. Yunho's own earlier fears came rushing back, and images of Jaejoong, hurt and beaten, rose unbidden to his mind. First, the way he had appeared following the incident in the cargo bay, and then the way Yunho feared he'd end up at the hands of an angry prison population. He took a moment to catch his breath. Borg or no, Yunho couldn't lose someone else so painfully. To violence and hatred.

"You'll be fine," he comforted. He leaned forward to kiss the worry from his face. "I'll make sure of it. You'll be fine." He pressed Jaejoong into the couch cushions and mumbled words of comfort into his warm skin. "I'll fight to save you," he promised, before he gathered Jaejoong up for another kiss. His mouth tasted both the salt of his skin and the bitterness of the thin bits of metal still in his flesh. His hips ground instinctively into the body underneath him and Jaejoong cried out in surprise.

To hell with my captaincy, he thought, as he ran his tongue along the dip of Jaejoong's collarbone. To hell with the Borg, to hell with admirals like Heechul. As he shed his shirt and moved to help Jaejoong out of his, Yunho decided he would stand up to all of them to help this man.

Protectiveness and lust. Desire and friendship. Perhaps that was what love was after all.

Chapter Text

"Hyoyeon, you're staring."

A blush bloomed on the ensign's face and she looked back sheepishly at her friend.

"I'm just curious," she said with an unnecessary pout.

Yuri looked up from her meal and across the the crowded dining hall to where her captain sat. He was assisting the drone who'd come on board with his meal, helping the other to position his hands around his chopsticks.

"Looks like they're eating. Nothing to be curious about."

"You're not the least bit bothered about that ... thing?"

"He needs to eat," Yuri said with a shrug.

Hyoyeon looked back at the pair before shuddering. "Gross," she mumbled just as Jinki sat down. The ensign looked down at his plate of stew before looking back up at Hyoyeon.

"I know you don't like Earth food, but there's no need to be so rude."

Yuri gave an amused chuckle. "She's talking about the Borg."

Jinki looked over his shoulder to where the captain and Jaejoong sat. He gave a shudder of his own. "He gives me the creeps."

"Ensign," Yuri scolded. "I'm surprised at you."

"Don't you work with him?" Hyoyeon asked.

"Ugh, yes." Jinki frowned before slurping down a large spoonful of his stew.

"What's he like?" Shoving her meal aside, the Bajoran placed her elbows on the table and leaned closer. Yuri looked up as well, curiosity in her eyes.

Jinki fiddled with his spoon. "He's … not what I expected."

"What do you mean?" Yuri asked.

"He talks. A lot. About really mundane things."

"Like the Borg?"

"No, like … everything. He has to comment on everything. The way we keep our records is inefficient. Our humanoid capabilities are inefficient. The color on the walls in the lab is ugly."

"Hmph," Hyoyeon sniffed. "Well, if he thinks we're so awful, why are we risking our lives protecting him?"

"Don't be mean," Yuri chided. "He saved our lives."

"He's also the one that endangered them in the first place. Why else do you think the Collective sent that cube after us?"

Yuri sighed. "I don't know," she began. "Just ... be nice. He's gone through a lot."

Hyoyeon clicked her tongue and shook her head in distaste. "Why are you going so easy on him?"

Yuri shrugged. "He hasn't done anything to anyone on this ship, but everyone treats him like the boogeyman." She looked over at the Borg, eyes softening. "He doesn't look like he could hurt a fly."

The younger woman frowned at her a moment — glancing back and forth from her to Jaejoong — before crossing her arms and smirking. "You think he's cute," she teased. Yuri blushed a deep red before sputtering.

"I .. what? … I do not! I just … feel bad for him. He's lost everything he's ever known. Twice. I don't see any reason to make things harder for him."

"You can't lie to me, Yuri. I've known you too long."

Blushing deeper, Yuri tossed her head haughtily. "I don't think he's cute. I just don't think he deserves what some of the people on this ship have put him through. He seems ... sweet."

Looking over at the captain's small table, the two women watched the pair as they ate. Jaejoong, finally mastering his chopsticks, picked up a piece of sweet potato and slowly brought it to his mouth. He looked up at Yunho, beaming brightly, when he was able to successfully pop it into his mouth.

After a comfortable moment of silence observing them, Hyoyeon leaned close and whispered across the table.

"Do you think he has implants on his penis?"

Jinki choked on his stew.

"Hyoyeon!" Yuri hissed.

"It's a valid question! I've seen photos of them before. They're covered all over with metal. It grows out of their skin! What do you think happens to his," she cut her eyes to where Jinki was still coughing on his meal, "his … his thing?"

Yuri spared a quick glance over at the ex-drone, only to find that Jinki's gagging had drawn both his and the captain's attention. She whipped her head back around to her meal.

Curling a piece of her long hair behind her ear, she tried desperately to appear unfazed by Hyoyeon's question. "I'm sure if you're curious enough, you could ask the doctor," she answered.

"Or the captain," Jinki said under his breath with a low chuckle. When he finally noticed his lunchmates' silence, he looked up to see Hyoyeon and Yuri staring at him, eyes wide with shock. He panicked when he realized what he'd just let slip.

"What did you say!?" Hyoyeon nearly screeched.

"Keep your voice down," Jinki whispered. "Nothing! I said nothing! Nothing you should have heard."

Yuri's eyes grow wider. "The Borg ... the captain ... he's ... he ..."

"He's 'assimilating' him!" Hyoyeon finished for her.

"No, he's not!" Jinki insisted.

"Assimilation via insemination," Hyoyeon said with a wondrous shake of her head. "What will the Collective think of next?"

"Will you please stop?" Jinki begged.

"You think they are?" Yuri questioned.

"I don't think anything. I don't know anything. Please, can we drop this?"

"He does spend a lot of time with the captain," Hyoyeon observed. "I bet he's at least felt him up. I know I would," she finished softly.

"They're not doing anything!" Jinki flustered. His face was almost the same of deep shade of red as his uniform.

"I heard a crewman say the drone spent the night in the captain's quarters. I just thought he was being an ass, but maybe ..."

"You have to tell me if they are," Yuri told Jinki, voice firm. "I outrank you. Tell me. Now."

Jinki scoffed and turned nervously back to his meal. "You can't order me to tell you anything," he mumbled.

"Yes, I can. This is a matter of ship security," she replied.

Jinki frowned. "You only fly the thing. What do you care about ship security?"

"I can't believe it," Hyoyean said softly, ignoring the two. She turned back to look at Yunho and Jaejoong with new eyes. Jaejoong was attempting to pick up another bite of food; a piece of beef, from what she could tell. The meat was greasier than the potato he'd eaten earlier, and each time he picked it up, it slipped right off his chopsticks. Jaejoong glared at his meal in frustration before looking up at the captain piteously.

After eight or nine more failed attempts, she watched as Yunho slipped the chopsticks out of Jaejoong's hand. Expertly positioning them around in his hand, he grabbed the piece of meat and held it up for him to eat. The Borg leaned forward, accepting the bite of beef eagerly. Yunho laughed at him good-naturedly before giving him the chopsticks back and motioning for him to try again.

It can't even feed itself, she thought with surprise. She looked back at Jinki and Yuri — the lieutenant had stolen the ensign's meal and was holding it out of his grasp — and grinned.

"Thank you, Jinki," she said cheerily as she resumed picking at her mapa bread.

"For what?" the beleaguered ensign asked, still reaching out for his bowl of stew.

She tossed a quick glance back to where Yunho was teaching Jaejoong how to strain his tea. Jaejoong took a sip too quickly and promptly dropped his mug when he burned his tongue.

"I don't think he's gross anymore."

Chapter Text

Medical officer's personal log, stardate 45122.1: I have decided to take a more active hand and Jaejoong's social life. I want him to prove to everyone that he can fit in and that his actions with the Collective were through no choice of his own. It may mean sacrificing a bit of my own free time, but I don't mind.

“Drinks?” Junsu repeated. He looked up from his plate into the kind eyes of the commander.

Yoochun smiled. “Yes. Things have been kind of high-strung around here and I thought it would do me some good to relax. I figured you might have realized the same thing.”

Junsu cocked his head at that. “What would we be drinking?”

“Not water,” the commander said with a good-natured smile.

“What I mean is, do you drink synthehol? Because I’m allergic to it.”

Yoochun leaned back in the dining hall chair, a smug, satisfied grin on his face. “No, Doc. I only drink the real stuff: Earth saké, Klingon blood wine and Vulcan brandy.” Yoochun walked his fingers across the table to run his finger across the back of Junsu’s knuckles. “What do you say? Join me for some good drinks and some good company?”

“That does sound nice,” Junsu replied, a pink blush rising to his cheeks. “Um … I’m free tomorrow night at 1900 hours if you are.”

“Great!” Yoochun beamed. “I’ll see you then. In my quarters?”

Junsu cocked a skeptical eyebrow. Yoochun grinned.

"It wouldn't do to have the second-in-command getting drunk where everyone could see, would it?"

“I suppose not," Junsu conceded. "That sounds fine. I’ll let Jaejoong know we have plans.”

Yoochun nearly choked. “Jaejoong?”

“I plan to bring him along.”

“Why?”

Junsu gave a small shrug of his shoulders before meeting Yoochun's eyes. “I think it would be good for him to interact with other members of the crew ... besides the captain. Don't you think?"

Yes, actually, Yoochun did think. He was totally on board "Team Prevent Jaejoong From Getting into the Captain's Pants." What he didn't think was that he needed to be one of those members of the crew who helped distract the doctor's strange new ward.

"Can't you leave him with Jinki?"

The doctor frowned. "I suppose I could, but …"

But, he’d spend the whole evening worrying about him, Yoochun sighed inwardly. As much as he wanted to be upset at Junsu's protectiveness, he couldn't deny that it was that kindness, that steadfast good-heartedness, that drew him to him in the first place.

Still, he'd give it one more go before he completely abandoned all his plans of a romantic evening.

“Junsu,” he breathed, voice low. "I just really want to get to know you better. You, as a man, not as a doctor aboard a ship."

Junsu held his gaze for a moment, the look in his eyes unreadable, before sighing and turning away. “I need to make sure he’s okay,” he replied. “Would it be alright for him to join us for an hour or so? I can order him to go regenerate once it gets late.”

Not the evening he'd envisioned, but Yoochun would take it. Putting up with Jaejoong would be a small sacrifice to pay to spend time with the good doctor.

"Okay," he agreed.

Junsu's smile bloomed into something that made Yoochun's heart melt just a little in his chest. Yes, he could — would — do this. An hour with an ex-Borg drone in exchange for an evening with Junsu. He'd done worse for less.

+++

It turned out, the doctor didn't drink. Or at least, he didn’t drink past a few polite sips.

Jaejoong, on the other hand, drank like a fish. A fish with a liver that could metabolize liquor 10 times faster than normal. He'd finished off two whole bottles of Vulcan brandy with little more than a hiccup and a scowl at the bitter taste.

“We do not understand the appeal of this drink,” he’d informed Yoochun.

“It’s alcohol,” Yoochun muttered. “You drink it to feel good. To relax.”

Jaejoong cocked his head, as if he assessing precisely how he felt at the moment. “Our stomach hurts. We don’t feel good.”

With a roll of his eyes, Yoochun snatched the bottle from his hand. "Great. So neither of you get any enjoyment out of drinking?"

Junsu gave him a lopsided smile. "It would seem that way."

"You might have mentioned that to me when we made plans, Doc."

Junsu flushed prettily, but he didn't look embarrassed. "To be honest, I didn't really care what'd we be doing," he replied. "I didn't want to turn down a chance to spend time with you," he'd replied with a nervous lick of his lips.

Yoochun realized he couldn't be upset with his reasoning. He leaned closer, and would have given in to the inclination to touch Junsu, if not for Jaejoong's curious (and insistent) stare.

"Doctor," the Borg interrupted. "You appear to be agitated. Your face is flushed, your pupils have dilated and your heart rate has increased 12 percent. Are you injured?"

Junsu grinned, kind as ever with him. "I'm not, Jaejoong." He gave Yoochun a quick glance that appeared to be asking for patience, before turning his full attention to the ex-drone. "Are you enjoying yourself?"

Jaejoong rolled his nearby empty glass away. "You are pleasant company," he replied. He gave Yoochun a quick look before turning away.

"It's not polite to insult your host, Borgy."

"We didn't mean to insult," he said softly. "You have been ignoring us."

"I said 'hello' when you arrived and poured you a drink. Did you want me to kiss you, too?"

Jaejoong frowned and looked away, while Junsu eyes pled with him to be agreeable. Just for an hour! his shy smile seemed to remind him. Yoochun sighed and mumbled a half-hearted apology. An hour, and then Junsu would recommend (or order) that Jaejoong go see about regenerating.

Perhaps he could give Jaejoong a little something that would help him sleep a bit sooner.

Reaching into the basket he'd packed, he pulled out a small carafe of rice wine and a small shot glass. He poured a shot and held it out for Jaejoong.

"Here, try this."

"What is it?" he asked warily.

"It's just a little something that will help you forget your troubles."

That appealed to Jaejoong, for he'd come across a lot of troubles lately. Still, he was reluctant to believe that anything the commander gave him would be effective.

"If this is more alcohol, we've already proven that it has no effect on us," he told him.

"Vulcan alcohol has no effect on you. It's basically weak tea. This is stronger. Drink up."

Rather than accepting the small taste of wine Yoochun held out, Jaejoong took the open bottle, sniffed it and threw the whole thing back in a few quick gulps.

Junsu shot to his feet. "Oh, god, Jaejoong. You can't drink that fast."

Jaejoong's head was cocked to the side, as if he was analyzing the high-proof alcohol he'd just ingested.

"Fermented rice drink," he reported back. "The taste is unlike anything we've experienced thus far. Strong, but obviously tempered with sugar."

"Don't be rude," Yoochun shot, snatching the bottle back. "That was quality sake you just gulped down, not some cheap wine cooler."

"Perhaps we need another taste." Grabbing the second carafe, he drank its contents in three quick swallows.

"Jaejoong, that's enough!" Junsu frowned, distressed. He studied Jaejoong with worried eyes, and Yoochun was certain that he would have pulled out his medical tricorder and started scanning Jaejoong if he had remembered to bring it along.

"Unbelievable," Yoochun said, sounding somewhat offended. "Two whole bottles of sake and he's still conscious."

He may have spoken too soon, because a moment later. Jaejoong collapsed back onto the couch. Junsu rushed over to rouse him, only to find that he was still conscious.

"Jaejoong! Jaejoong, are you okay?"

"We are fine, Doctor." He struggled to sit up, arms shaking as he fell back against the plush cushions of the couch. "We fail to see the appeal of this drink."

"How is he not dead?" Yoochun asked, mostly to himself. "Or at least almost dead?"

"His metabolism isn't entirely Human," Junsu answered. "There's a lot that's handled by his implants."

"So he can't get drunk?"

"I'm not sure. It's, at the very least, harder to get him drunk."

Yoochun smirked and went back to his liquor cabinet. "I have something else he can try."

 +++

It was the blood wine that finally did it.

Jaejoong had finished off the other two carafes of sake Yoochun had brought along before testing the "properties" of the skin of fresh blood wine he'd procured off Deep Space 7.

He'd hiccuped, stated he wasn't running at "peak efficiency," then went limp against the couch.

Junsu followed after, queasy and nauseated from his own sample of the wine.

That left Yoochun alone with a possibly dead Borg and a date who was one stumble away from throwing up all over him.

All in all, one of his more memorable social events.

He still wanted to salvage some part of this evening between him and the doctor, though.

"Cmdr. Changmin, report to my quarters." He didn’t wait to hear the other officer’s reply, instead walking behind the couch to straighten Jaejoong up. He mumbled something under his breath that sounded a lot like "we will adapt."

He wheezed a sigh of relief when he heard the quiet whoosh of his quarter doors.

Changmin took one quick look around before frowning and taking a step back from the room. "I refuse," he said simply, turning to stalk away.

Yoochun shot up and grabbed the man by the arm. "What do you mean, 'I refuse'? I haven't asked you anything."

Changmin cocked his head and turned back to look at the two bodies lying on the couch

"Logic, Cmdr. Park," Changmin retorted. "I can easily infer the reason why you did call me and, I say again, I refuse."

"You have to help me," Yoochun shot back.

"Why?"

"I outrank you. And you owe me."

The normally stoic officer seemed to be offended by the idea. "What could I possibly owe you?"

"Your life," Yoochun said. "I'm the one who saved you from being assimilated by Borgy, remember?"

"Jaejoong had been disconnected from the Collective before we even encountered him. I was in no danger."

"Well, then, I saved you from getting your ass beat by him."

Changmin scowled, pride obviously bristling. "I was in no danger."

“That’s not how things looked from where I was standing. From what I saw, you were flat on your back in a ripped environmental suit while our murderous friend here stabbed you in the neck."

"They were merely puncture wounds. He never stabbed me." Giving another disapproving look around the room, Changmin straightened and pulled his arm from Yoochun's grasp. "Fine," he said tightly. He stalked across the dark bay and bent down to help Junsu to his feet. "I will accompany Dr. Kim to sickbay and help him address his nausea. You can assist Jaejoong."

"I kind of wanted to be the one —"

The Vulcan glared at him.

"Fine! Fine! You grab the doctor and I'll get Jaejoong." He lugged Jaejoong up off the couch, pulling the drone’s arm around his shoulders and holding him sturdily around the waist. “Tell me, Min,” he asked as watched an unsteady and near-puking Junsu get pulled easily up by the Vulcan’s strength, “what is it that Seohyun loves most about you? Your dashing charm? Your sense of humor? The way you smile?”

“My mind,” Changmin answered easily. “Which she did not have to be inebriated to appreciate. Have a good night, Commander.” The other officer made his exit, leading the doctor down the wide corridor.

Yoochun watched him go, a grin coming unbidden to his face. A starship captain with self-destructive tendencies and a smart-ass Vulcan. He needed new friends.

+++

Captain's personal log, stardate 45122.7: Another quiet evening on the ship has been disturbed by crew members with too much alcohol. I'm considering a ship-wide ban. At least this time Jaejoong's … injuries are easier to care for.

“Come,” Yunho called out when the chime on his door rang. “Come!” he called out again when his visitor didn’t enter right away.

Curious as to what was going on, he pressed the button for the door to open only to find his second-in-command with an unconscious Jaejoong hanging limply at his side.

“Here you are, Captain. I believe this is yours.”

Yunho gathered the drunken man that Yoochun shoved at him and glared at him reproachfully. “What did you do to him?”

“Nothing,” Yoochun said. “I invited the doctor out for some drinks. I’d like to salvage some part of this evening in order to get to know him better, but there was no way that was going to happen with Borgy here bringing the entire mood of the room down.”

"Why is he unconscious? Did he react badly to the synthehol?”

“No, no,” Yoochun replied. “He’s just a little bit … blacked out.”

“He's drunk? You gave him real alcohol?” Yunho panicked. The last time members of his crew took to drinking real alcohol, they'd beat up Jaejoong in the cargo bay.

Yoochun scowled as he straightened his shirt. “I never understood the point of synthehol. No one drinks because they like the taste.”

"Commander!"

"He'll be fine!" Yoochun scoffed. "Superman here apparently metabolizes alcohol at nearly the same rate that he drinks it. It's almost impossible to get him drunk. Leave it to the Borg to take all the fun out of drinking."

"If it's impossible to get him drunk, why is he unable to stand on his own?"

"I said almost impossible. It seems the Borg have yet to find a way to adapt to Klingon blood wine."

Yunho looked up, angry. "Blood wine is fatal to Humans."

"Not that one."

"Yoochun," Yunho began, a hint of a warning on his face.

"Stop making that face. The plan was to get Dr. Kim just drunk enough to loosen up. Or cheer up. Every time we talk, we end up discussing his maybe-dead brother." He frowned and shot a glare at Jaejoong. "Unfortunately for everyone involved in this mess, Doc's a lightweight and Borgy here's a terrible wingman.”

"Why did you take him on your date anyway?"

"Because the doctor has some weird attachment issues." Raising his hands up defensively to halt any more questions, Yoochun shook his head and began backing away down the corridor. "Look, this whole night has been ... weird. You put your clingy, robotic boyfriend to bed and I'll go and try and lure mine into an upright and conscious position."

"Yoochun!" Yunho called after him. The other man waved as he rounded the corner. "We're talking about this tomorrow!" he shouted after him.

At the moment, Yunho realized it wouldn’t do to have someone see him lugging Jaejoong, drunk and unconscious into his quarters.

“Computer,” he commanded, as he tightened his grasp around Jaejoong. “Two for a site-to-site transfer from this location to Jaejoong's quarters. Energize."

By the time Yunho and Jaejoong phased into Jaejoong's bedroom and eased him into his bed, the drone had roused into a state of semi-consciousness. Yunho smiled at him sympathetically as he got himself tangled up in the covers.

“Yun’o,” Jaejoong slurred. He attempted to sit up, only to lose his balance and fall right back onto the bed. “Wass wrong with us?”

“I believe you’re drunk,” Yunho answered. He straightened the blankets and tucked Jaejoong in underneath them.

“Drunk?”

"Intoxicated. Or maybe just sick from drinking too much. How much did the commander give you?”

“We don’ know. We just took what he gave us. Said it’d make us feel good.” Jaejoong brought his hands to his face. “We don’t feel good," he said, voice muffled.

“An important lesson on human social interactions: Don’t take drinks from strangers.”

"Wassn't a stranger," Jaejoong murmured.

Yunho chuckled as he rolled Jaejoong onto his side in case he got sick in the middle of the night. Yunho was surprised at how slack and relaxed his body felt. It was rare to see the other like this, so completely at rest. Jaejoong didn't sleep — he had no need to — and did not allow others, not even the doctor, to remain in his quarters while he regenerated.

“He wanted to be with the doctor, not us,” Jaejoong said softly into his pillow, interrupting the silence.

“Excuse me?”

Jaejoong rolled back to face him. “The commander. He only wanted the doctor’s company; he had no interest in ours.”

Yunho rolled his eyes. “Don’t feel bad. Yoochun once left me alone at a bar surrounded by a bunch of pissed off Klingons after he went to have fun with their sister."

Jaejoong made a face that implied he had no idea what Yunho was talking about.

"Don't take it personally," Yunho amended. "The commander just has a very narrow focus sometimes. There are other people who are interested in you," he finished softly.

"Other people ..." Jaejoong murmured to himself. "You?"

Yunho carded long fingers through his hair and rolled his eyes good-naturedly. "What do you think?"

That sat in a comfortable silence, Jaejoong closing his eyes as he allowed Yunho to run his fingers through his hair. It had grown at least an inch since he'd been on board, the ends framing his face nicely. His shaggy bangs now covered the dull gray of the implant above his eye.

His face had filled out as well. Still thin, but much less gaunt than when he'd first come on board. In fact, the only thing about him that seemed to remain unchanged were those small metallic implants.

"The commander lied," Jaejoong said softly. "We haven't forgotten our troubles."

"Hmmm?"

"The commander said it'd make us feel good ... It didn't. Said it'd help us forget our troubles ... We haven't."

Yunho moved closer, fingers still running through Jaejoong's hair. "What troubles do you have?"

Jaejoong finally opened his eyes and met Yunho's stare. "Your crew doesn't like us."

"They're getting there."

"We'll have to leave you."

"Not yet."

"The Borg may —"

"The Borg won't do anything. That's my problem. You don't worry about it."

Something in Jaejoong's eyes softened at that. "You drank," he replied.

"What?"

Moving his head out of Yunho's grasp, Jaejoong tried to sit up again, grabbing Yunho's arm when dizziness overtook him, before steadying himself against the headboard. "You told us when you lost your family. You drank."

"Yes, I did," Yunho answered.

"Did you enjoy it?"

"... No."

"Did it help you forget?"

"Not really. It just helped me put off having to deal with it."

"What helps you now?"

Yunho smiled weakly, reaching out to smooth Jaejoong's messy hair. "People. Friends. My crew."

Yunho was startled when a hand reached out and grabbed his chin. He turned to see Jaejoong watching him with sleepy eyes. The hand traced its way along his jaw, up his ear, across his forehead and down his nose. Jaejoong had touched him before. Many times, in fact. This touch was different. Less sensual. More studious.

"What are you doing?" he asked, voice still soft.

"Attractiveness is based on symmetry, Yun'o. Did you know that?"

"I'd read it somewhere."

"You are ... very symmetrical. Your face and your body both. We like to look at you."

"Thank you," Yunho said, humor evident in his voice. “You’re pretty symmetrical, too.”

Jaejoong sighed loudly, as if he was shifting some heavy burden, and Yunho suppressed the ridiculous urge to laugh.

"We are not. We are imperfect."

Yunho reached across to trace Jaejoong's face in the same way the other man had touched his. He ran a thumb along the metal embedded along his jaw, skimmed his ear and rested the tips of his fingers along the intricate piece above his eye. Had the metal not been on his face, he would have been considered gorgeous by any Human standards. And while the implants on his face didn't deform him, it did take away a bit of the princely air he would have had otherwise.

"Why do you say that?" he asked.

Jaejoong reached up to clasp his hand. He guided Yunho's fingers along his own face, along the implant the arched above his eye, the thin, flat one that ran alongside his jaw. He pressed at the apples of his cheeks and traced the strong bridge of his nose.

"Your Human friends, your superiors. They'll see us and see the Borg. It's all over our face."

"These are scars," Yunho said softly. "And they aren't something you should be ashamed of. They mean you survived. That's what you need to always remember: You survived."

Jaejoong dropped his hand and turned his unsteady gaze toward Yunho. “We survived,” he repeated. “You helped us survive. Have we thanked you for that yet, Yunho?”

Fingers still trailing across Jaejoong's face, Yunho traced the outline of soft, dry lips. He thought back to the kiss they'd shared. Jaejoong had been a fast learner and Yunho couldn't help the heat that coiled in low in his belly as he wondered what else he could teach him. “Not in words,” he replied.

Jaejoong seemed to reflect on that for moment. “Why are you helping us, Yunho?” he asked suddenly. He tried to sit up again and was forced by the dizziness in his head to lie back down.

"You're sick."

"No ... we mean earlier. When you found us. Why did you save us? We ... you didn't know us. We could have — would have — harmed you."

“You keep asking me that, Jaejoong. I don’t know what answer you’re expecting.”

The first time he'd asked, he'd been bleeding and battered at the hands of his crew. The last time, he'd been sitting with Yunho on the bridge, helping him run diagnostics on his ship. And each time, Yunho couldn't think of a better answer than "it was more convenient."

“The truth. We … I just want to know why I’m still alive.”

"You're kind of hard to ignore, Jaejoong. You know that? As a Human you're pretty insistent. When you were still Borgified and trussed up in your implants, you were downright scary."

Jaejoong frowned. "We don't wish to intimidate you."

"You didn't. Not completely. First you scared me, then I felt bad for you and then ... remember when you told me that you wanted to stay Human for me?”

“Yes.”

Yunho shrugged. “That … that meant a lot. The big bad Borg who wanted to be better for me. So ... I thought the least I could do was be better to you.”

If Yunho thought that answer would cheer Jaejoong up, he was wrong. The other man's face appeared stricken and he frowned.

"We don't want to have to leave you, Yunho."

Yunho wasn't expecting that. But, before he could reply, the comm chirped and Jinki's voice piped up through his badge.

"Captain, please report to the bridge."

Shaking his head clear, he tapped at his badge to answer. "On my way, Ensign."

He pulled the blanket up to cover Jaejoong and helped help to recline back on the bed. Before he left, he pressed a chaste kiss to his forehead, lips feeling both the warmth of his skin and the coolness of his implants. "I told you, you're not going anywhere yet, Jaejoong. Rest. I'll be back soon."

Chapter Text

"Report!" Yunho ordered sharply as he strolled onto the bridge.

Yuri turned around at her station to give Yunho a worried look.

"We're being followed, Captain," she said, a slight edge to her voice.

"Explain."

Jinki rose from his station at ops and handed Yunho a PADD with the details of their latest scans.

"We've picked up traces of warp particles that aren't our own. When we did a more thorough scan of space, we found that a ship —" his voice faltered a moment before he was able to continue, "a cube-shaped ship has been shadowing us from about 50,000 kilometers away for the past 18 hours."

"Are you sure they're trailing us?"

"Yes," Yuri spoke up. "We've made subtle changes to our flight path and they've matched each one perfectly."

Yunho flipped through the information on the PADD in worry. If this was another run in with the Collective, even with Jaejoong's help, there was little chance they'd survive it. The Borg adapted; it was their greatest strength. Each time they faced them, they were stronger, more responsive. Soon, it would take more than a disenfranchised drone and clever tricks to defeat them.

"All stop, sir?" Yuri asked, interrupting his thoughts.

"No," he replied. "Steady as she goes, Lieutenant. Yellow alert." He tapped at his badge. "Cmdrs. Changmin and Park, report to my ready room."

He grabbed the reports and went to his office located directly off the bridge. Changmin entered a few minutes later, only the arch of an eyebrow revealing his curiosity. Yoochun entered moments later, still dressed in his civilian date clothes.

"My dear doctor has sobered up enough to tell me everything he loves about my hair. He plans on moving to my face next, so can we hurry this up?"

Yunho made a mental note to send his first officer some literature on sexual harassment in the workplace.

"The Borg have been trailing us since yesterday afternoon," he said, as he tapped at the display screen on the wall of his ready room. The flight path of the Valiant was projected followed by the path of the cube that was shadowing it. Yoochun's brow furrowed as he studied the screen.

"How long have we known?" he asked, his tone all business.

"Our scanners just picked it up."

Yoochun stood and turned to face Yunho. "This is getting fucking eerie. This is what? ... The third time we've ran into them?"

"Fourth," Changmin interrupted. "If you count our initial encounter with Jaejoong's cube."

"Either way, that's four times as many encounters that anyone has ever survived," Yoochun said, voice tight. "I'd say we were lucky, but I think that's being too generous."

Yunho didn’t answer, instead watching the screens that showed the massive cube less than a light year away. It didn’t make any sense. The Borg didn’t hide and they didn't sneak around. They simply took. The fact that they weren’t was proving to be unnerving.

"What are they waiting for?" he wondered aloud. "Why aren't they chasing us down, assimilating us?”

"Maybe they want us to lead them to Federation space?" Yoochun offered. "Following us in would be easier than blasting through our defenses."

"Following us would be a waste of their time and energy," Changmin replied. "They could easily assimilate us and get that information."

"Well, then what do you think, smarty-pants?"

"We've destroyed and evaded two Borg cubes in a matter of months," Changmin said easily. "That feat is unheard of. They could be hesitant to engage us directly."

“Doubt it,” Yunho answered. “We’ve barely destroyed and evaded two Borg cubes and we had a lot of help with the last one. Both times, however, we heard nothing from them afterward. Why are they following us now? What's changed?"

After a moment's thought, Changmin turned and looked at him steadily. "We are returning to Earth."

"I just said that," Yoochun groused.

Changmin shook his head. "You misunderstand. They don't wish to follow us there. They wish to keep us from arriving."

"Why would they care?"

“I do not know for sure,” Changmin replied. “However, it would be in their best interest to stop us. We cannot deny that our run-ins with the Borg during this mission have given us a great tactical advantage. We've gained a wealth of knowledge that would serve the Federation well if they ever sought to engage the Borg in the future.”

Yunho's blood ran cold. "And how would the Collective know that?"

"There are multiple ways. They could have jumped to that conclusion upon noticing our change of course back to Federation space, they could have tapped our communication with Starfleet Headquarters or ..." Changmin frowned, quite illogically.

"Or?" Yunho prodded.

"Jaejoong could be telling them," Yoochun finished for him.

Heechul's fears of Jaejoong's betrayal replayed in Yunho's mind. "No," he said immediately. "He wouldn't do that. He's too invested in the welfare of this ship to sell us out like that."

"He may not be aware he's doing it," Yoochun said. "We know he can still hear them at times. Why wouldn't they be able to hear him, as well?"

"It still doesn't make any sense. Why now? Why wouldn't they have heard him before?"

Changmin shrugged. "I do not know; I just know that considering Jaejoong's ... past, he is the most logical source of our leak."

Yoochun frowned. "If that's the case, we have to separate him from the rest of the crew. If we don't, any move we make will be broadcast right to the Borg."

Yunho glared at him. "We can't lock him away. He nearly had a mental breakdown the first time we did that."

"What else can we do? We leave him out to interact with the crew, to interact with you, we put the whole ship at risk."

"We wouldn't have to lock him in the brig again," Changmin offered. "He could simply be confined to his quarters."

"Where we lock him up is not the problem, Changmin."

"Captain, there is no other option; we have to isolate him."

Yoochun grabbed one of the PADDs and tapped at the screens. "There's a nebula nearby we could hide in. We can try and lose them there, and once we have, we can give him limited access to the ship and the crew."

"You know the second we go to warp to escape them, they'll realize we've found them out," Yunho said.

"Then we better fly fast."

Yunho scowled as he realized that this was their best plan of action. He didn't want to seclude Jaejoong for any period of time, but he had to protect his crew, even if that meant protecting them from themselves. "He'll hate me for it."

"If Borgy is anything, he's practical," Yoochun replied. "He'll understand."

"How long do you think it would take?"

Yoochun shrugged. "A day or two, if we're lucky."

"You just said luck would be too generous."

"Assuming we'll survive this week is being too generous," Yoochun replied. "But, I'm in a generous mood." He dropped the PADD back onto the table and stretched his arms over his head. "It's the only thing we can do, Captain. Go tell your boyfriend he's under house arrest."

+++

Not surprisingly, Jaejoong had not taken the news of their plan well.

"You're ... you're locking us away again?" he asked, panicked. "We had a deal. We'd be Human and you'd let us be free."

"Jaejoong, it's just a precaution," Yunho comforted. Jaejoong was still in bed, but he had at least found the steadiness to sit up. His fear made his gaze sharper and more lucid than before, and Yunho sat on the edge of the bed to hold his hand. "You're not being locked up. It's only until we figure out how the Borg are tracking us."

"You are being foolish. If the Collective has decided to pursue the ship, you'll need our help. We should be on the bridge."

"That wouldn't be wise. You're still not completely sober."

"We can help you outrun them. We can —"

"Jaejoong," Yunho interrupted, voice firm. "The Borg are following us, and we think you're the reason why. We think ... we think they've found a way to use you to listen in on us."

The accusation hung unspoken in the air, but Jaejoong picked up on it regardless.

"We wouldn't!" Jaejoong insisted. "We'd never tell them anything."

"I know." Yunho placed a gentle hand on Jaejoong's forearm. "But we have to make sure no one is able to ... hack you. You have to stay here. For your sake and all of ours."

"Captain," Yuri spoke through the comm. "The cube has gained speed and is closing the distance between us."

"I'm on my way." He met Jaejoong's gaze as he sat, alone in his room, which suddenly felt more stark and empty than it ever had before. "Can I trust you, Jaejoong? Will you stay here for me?"

Jaejoong knew he couldn't promise that. He knew that if it came down to it, he'd go down into the engine room and power the ship by hand to get them away.

But, he wouldn't be stupid enough to tell Yunho that.

"I'll do whatever will keep us safe," he answered softly.

Yunho gave him a shaky smile in gratitude. "Good," he said, giving Jaejoong's hand a squeeze. "Thank you. It won't be permanent, I promise." He rose from the bed and Jaejoong watched him nod to the security officer stationed outside his room before the doors whooshed closed.

+++

"Lt. Kwon," Yunho said, taking his place in the captain's seat. "It's time to lose our shadow. Prepare for warp 9, any heading."

"Aye, sir," Yuri replied. The crew could hear the quiet whir of the engines as they powered up.

Going to warp would let the Borg know they'd been spotted. It'd lure them into a more direct confrontation. Yunho swallowed. He wasn't ready for this. The ship nor his crew was ready for this, but they'd never be fully ready to take on the Borg. There was no use delaying it.

"Engage," he ordered.

The Valiant hummed as the engines reached full power. A moment later, the stars on the view screen became nothing more than long streaks of light as the ship zoomed forward.

“The cube has followed us into warp, sir," Jinki announced. He didn't sound at all surprised.

"Let me know when they're close enough to put a lock on us." He swiveled his chair around to get a good look at the tactical station. "Changmin, I want all available power in our shields. Don't give them a chance to adapt."

The Vulcan nodded, but didn't take his eyes off the information streaming across his monitor screens. "Shields are at 100 percent, Captain. Our weapons are charged and ready to go, as well."

"Captain," Jinki said, "the cube is in visual range."

"Put it on screen." The view screen flickered before revealing the image of a cube steadily gaining on them. It was the largest Borg cube Yunho had ever seen in his life, a massive thing that flew with a speed that was beyond any and all rules of physics Yunho knew.

"They're locking phasers, Captain," Yuri informed him.

"Evasive maneuvers," he ordered. He looked back up at the nearly asteroid-sized thing chasing them. "Their huge size is a weakness, Lieutenant. Let's take advantage of it."

The young officer nodded and tightened her grip on the controls. The ship zipped away, dropping down underneath the flight path of the cube. With ease, the more-nimble Valiant turned away from the cube and took off in the opposite direction.

"Well done," he said with a cautious smile.

For a few precious seconds, the cube grew smaller as it continued moving away from the small vessel. It didn't take long, however, for it to alter course and resume its pursuit. A photon blast shot from the cube's face, and a moment later, a shockwave shook the ship.

"They're firing at us," Changmin reported. "Shields are at 90 percent and holding."

"Fire back, Commander."

The bridge crew watched as the Valiant's phasers shot uselessly behind them. The blasts were absorbed and deflected off the cube's shield's like water off a fast moving car.

"No effect," Changmin informed him.

"Captain, they'll be in range to get a lock on us in 30 seconds," Jinki spoke up.

"Give the engines all they've got, Lt. Kwon. Fastest possible speed."

Yunho could hear the humming of the engines and the trill of the deck as the ship prepared its burst of speed. But, shortly before the engines were able to take off, a well-aimed photon blast nearly knocked them out of warp.

He was thrown from his seat as the ship recoiled out of control. As he was tossed to the floor, he realized just how damned he was. It was happening all over again. Wolf 359. The run-in with the cube only a two weeks before. He'd escaped death twice. It would be too much to hope he'd survive the Borg again.

"Humans are so naive!" Jaejoong's scolding echoed in Yunho's head as he fought to keep from vomiting on the unsteady deck. If only he had paid more attention to him.

You're right, Jaejoong, he thought regretfully. We are. And I'm so sorry we dragged you down with us.

+++

Decks away in his quarters, Jaejoong paced on shaky legs.

It wasn't enough. Whatever was happening on the bridge, whatever plan Yunho and his crew had come up with wouldn't be enough. Jaejoong could tell from the shudder of the ship's deck as it struggled to escape the pull that had it captured. And, of course, from the whispers of the Collective that'd begun to seep into his consciousness.

Disable vessel. Lower shields. Board ship and assimilate.

Jaejoong had gone through this many thousands of times before. He still remembered the last hours of hundreds of ships before this one. First a lock, then beam on board and, finally, began assimilation. It didn't matter which was taken first — the crew or the ship. The Borg would get it all in the end.

A violent shake, larger than any of the other previous shockwaves that had ripped through the ship, tossed him to the ground and he struggled to keep from dry heaving.

The Borg would get Yunho. A protective anger roiled through him. Yunho, who'd — even in his anger — had never actively hurt him. Who cared for his crew. Who wanted to be happy. Who wanted nothing more than to forget what the Borg were and the evil they wrought.

He pictured his captain, warm and smiling at him over breakfast, holding his hand on the holographic beach, teaching him how to kiss in the empty holodeck. Yunho's survival was important — vital — to him. They had no right to hurt him.

And how dare they even try. They'd already taken so much from him: his parents, his siblings, his childhood, his humanity. He wouldn't allow them to take Yunho, too.

Other faces came unbidden to his mind's eye. The annoyed scowl of Cmdr. Park. The caring voice of the doctor. The steady and stoic presence of the Vulcan, who — besides Yunho — Jaejoong had found the easiest to relate to. The nervous, young ensign whom he reported to in the labs. The pretty helmsman who had never spoken to him, but who always smiled so kindly when she saw him in the corridors. Yunho's crew. His crew. The Borg had no right to touch any of them.

He'd acted before he'd even realized it, jamming his assimilation tubules into the panel near his locked door, blowing out the mechanism that kept him bolted in. The officer assigned to keep watch over him — barely out of the Academy if Jaejoong was to venture a guess — stood, phaser high to stop him.

"Stay in your quarters," he ordered, albeit with a tremor in his voice.

"We have to help the captain," he explained.

"You were ordered to remain here. Go back or I'll stun you."

There was no time for this foolishness. Ignoring the command, Jaejoong disabled and knocked the other man to the ground. It took longer than it should have due to his aching head and dizzying vision. Fumbling fingers pressed sharply against two nerves in the officer's neck and caught him as he collapsed to the ground. He took his phaser and quickly sped off down the corridor to Yunho.

+++

When the turbolift doors opened to reveal the smoking, chaotic bridge, Jaejoong shuddered at how familiar the scene before him was. It was nearly identical to what he had seen on the holodeck with Yunho as he tried over and over to recreate the final moments of the USS Kyushu.

"Yunho!" he shouted, disoriented and lost in the confusion. He could hear the panicked voices of the bridge crew as they shouted their reports.

Shields are at 43 percent!

They've got a lock on us, Captain! We can't break away.

Casualties are coming in from decks two through five, and hull breaches have been reported on deck four.

"Yunho!" he repeated, voice lost in commotion of the bridge. His eyes stung from acrid smoke and his voice rasped against his stinging throat. The electrical system must have gotten fried and blown out the power panels running through the bulkhead of the bridge. That or something was on fire.

"Jaejoong!" he heard Yunho call over the ruckus. "I gave you a specific order—"

"Yunho!" he interrupted. He could still hear the Collective. Their plans and orders. There was no time for anger, no time for scoldings. Drones would soon beam aboard the ship to begin assimilating the crew of the Valiant one by one. That is, if the small vessel didn't pull itself apart trying to escape before then. "Just tell me what to do!" he called out.

"Shields!" Yoochun screamed out the order. "Get to shields now. Get their lock off us!"

He felt his way to the tactical station, where Changmin furiously tapped at his screens. Except for the sheen of sweat on his face and his battle-mussed hair, he looked as calm and collected as he ever did.

"Lt. Cmdr. Changmin, tell us what to do."

"Are you able to repeat what you did last time we encountered them?" Changmin asked, eyes never looking away from his work. "Repower our shields so we can break free from their tractor beam?"

"We can try."

Changmin nodded his assent and Jaejoong reached out to insert his tubules into the tactical station and assessed the state of the ship. A trickle of fear pooled in his belly as he realized this situation was far worse than the last time they'd come face-to-face with the Collective. Their shields weren't just being drained; they were being destroyed. The generator that produced the energy field that protected the ship was being burned from the inside out by the powerful weapons the Borg were pummeling them with. He could try and reroute the power, but by the time the he did that, they'd probably already be blasted apart.

"Your shields are too damaged for us to repair quickly," he informed Changmin. The Vulcan frowned almost imperceptibly. "We'll have to disable their ship."

"The odds of that happening are not in our favor."

Jaejoong looked out on the bridge. It was difficult to make out individual crew members through the haze, but he could hear Yunho issuing commands. The low timbre of his voice contrasted sharply with the whispers of the Collective still running through his head.

"Evacuate deck four and seal off the breaches."

Disable vessel.

"Changmin, Target their tractor beam."

Lower shields.

"Yuri, be ready to take evasive maneuvers as soon as we break free."

Board ship and assimilate all crew members.

Furious, he reached inside himself, tapping into the part of him that had spent nearly 20 years listening, obeying and being the Collective. He knew it was useless. Just because he could hear them, didn't mean they could hear him. And even they could, it would be a mere whisper against billions of voices.

Still, someone had to question them. Someone had to tell them "no."

So, he did. He concentrated and sent one clear thought to the Collective.

Leave.

+++

Almost as suddenly as it had began, the attack stopped.

"Captain," Jinki said, voice shaking, "they're hailing us."

"Put it through," Yunho said softly.

Static sounded through the bridge speakers before the eerie stillness of the cube could be heard. Yunho straightened and cleared his throat, hoping his frayed nerves wouldn't be heard.

"This is the—"

We are the Borg, the voices of the Collective interrupted. Lower your shields and power down your weapons. Prepare to be assimilated. Resistance is futile.

"Yeah, we fucking got that!" Yoochun shot back.

Yunho didn't waste time glaring at him for his outburst, but that was only because he'd noticed Jaejoong had that look on his face again. That same blank, robotic stare he'd worn last time they'd encountered the Collective and before he'd taken control of the ship and whisked them away to safety. Considering that, Yunho wasn't sure if he should have been worried or relieved.

"Captain, they're scanning us," Jinki warned.

"Do what you can to block it," he ordered. He turned back to the view screen, aware that the channel with the Borg was still open. "You will cease —" he began.

One of Five, Auxiliary Drone of Unimatrix 263. You will assist us in the assimilation of this vessel.

The words confused Yunho, and for a moment, he thought the Collective had accidentally voiced a command meant for one of their drones. Then the realization hit him like ice water; the Borg were talking directly to Jaejoong. He stood up quickly to drag him off the bridge, but halted when he realized Jaejoong was mumbling low and quiet to himself. He thought he could see the other man shaking where he stood, fists balled tightly.

"Jaejoong?" he asked softly, hoping his voice would help pull the other back from the depths of his mind. Jaejoong didn't even look at him.

"No," he said in a firm, harsh whisper. "We will not comply."

You are Borg. You will assist us. Resistance is futile.

"We — I am not Borg anymore." Jaejoong raised his head to stare furiously at the view screen. "I am not your drone, and I will not help you. I will make sure this ship escapes you."

Then you will be destroyed.

The link ended abruptly, and before Yunho could voice another order, the Valiant shook violently under a barrage of photon torpedos and phasers blasts.

"Captain, shields are at 19 percent and dropping," Changmin yelled from his station.

"Divert all power — engines, weapons, life support — to the shields. Keep them up as long as you can."

It was a useless effort, because in less than 30 seconds, the shields of the small ship failed completely. The weapons fire ceased, and the two ships — one a hulking, massive cube and the other a drifting, battered thing — faced off in the quiet void of space.

"We are defenseless," Changmin informed the bridge.

Yunho turned to face him. "I want an armed security team — no, order every member of the crew to arm themselves and prepare to shoot to kill. If they're going to come on board, we'll fight them here."

Changmin opened his mouth to reply, but quickly shut it when he saw the look of determination on Yunho's face. Instead, he gave a quick "aye, sir," before tapping at his badge to issue the order. And while Yunho knew Changmin would follow his instructions exactly as given, the look on the other's face implied that he was only indulging his Human captain's act of desperation out of kindness.

The bridge was quiet as the crew waited for the first drone to beam aboard. As a few tension-filled minutes stretched on, it was all Yunho could do to not scream at them to get on with it.

"What the fuck are they waiting on?" Yoochun started, slamming a hand on the bulkhead.

"I don't know," Yunho replied. "They didn't play games like this at Wolf 359. Jaejoong?"

When he looked over at the other man, his heart dropped at the confused and panicked look on his face. "What's wrong?" he asked.

"We ... we can no longer hear them."

"What?"

"The Collective. We can't hear their plans. We don't know what they're doing."

Jaejoong was so caught up in the feeling of being cut off from the Collective for the second time, that he didn't notice the tingling sensation in his legs until it had climbed to his waist. Once he did, it took only a second for his mind to register what it was. He looked down to see the familiar green haze envelop his limbs as he began to disappear from the bridge.

"Yunho!" he shouted, voice cracking in panic.

Yunho turned and his eyes widened in fear. "Jinki!" he shouted at the ensign, who jumped in his seat. "Stop that beam!"

But, it was too late.

Jaejoong kept his eyes on Yunho as he felt his body fade and disappear from the bridge.

The heartbreak on his face was the last thing he saw before everything went black.

Chapter Text

Yunho stared at the spot where Jaejoong had been not more than 10 seconds before.

Gone. He was gone. Beamed off the ship by the Borg.

“Jinki!” he shouted at the ensign. “Get him back!”

“Trying, sir! But they’ve already put their shields up and are powering their engines.”

The image of the cube turned on the viewscreen and the entire bridge could watch as its front phasers lit with power.

“Use whatever power we have to get us out of here, Lieutenant,” Yoochun shouted at Yuri.

“Aye, sir,” Yunho could hear her call out, but it was no use. The ship rocked violently as the cube battered it with a final barrage of phaser power, rolling, pitching and throwing Yunho and other members of the bridge crew to the deck.

And then, after what felt like hours of being beaten down and ripped apart, the stomach-churning movement of the ship stopped.

“Report,” Yunho shouted, still lying on the deck. Something, the weight of it felt like the base of his command chair, was lying across his shins, pinning him to the floor. Cautiously, he rubbed painful crick out of his neck. His muscles ached, but nothing felt broken. He looked up at the viewscreen, only to see that the feed was completely black. “Ensign Lee, what’s happening?”

“They’re still out there, sir. Our visuals have been severely damaged, so the viewscreen can’t show them, but I can tell they’re out there. I don’t know … I don’t know what else we can do.”

“Shall we prepare for ramming speed, sir?” Changmin asked. Yunho flinched, but he could see the wisdom in Changmin’s words. A quick suicide would be preferable than whatever the Borg had planned for them.

“Captain?” Yoochun inquired.

“I …” He’d barely had time to form an order when the cube viewscreen blinked back to life. The image was fuzzy and frozen in some places but the massive cube was easy to make out. Lights on its exterior brightened as it prepared to power up once more.

Yunho had expected the cube to blow his ship into nothing but fragments and ash. He had expected dozens upon dozens of drones to board his ship and begin the painful process of assimilating his crew. He had expected his existence — either his physical one or his one as an individual — to come to an end.

So he was left dumbfounded when the cube, which had been pummeling them mere minutes before, simply adjusted its heading, jumped into warp and zoomed off into space.

The Borg were gone. And with them, Jaejoong.

It was Yuri's voice that brought him back to his bridge.

"Captain?" she began softly. "Should we pursue?"

He wanted to. He needed to. He needed to get Jaejoong back. But Yunho was, above all things, an excellent captain. He knew he couldn't jeopardize his already vulnerable crew by chasing after the enemy.

He needed to stay focused and get them moving.

"No," he replied. "Ensign Lee, find us a hiding spot. If they come back, I don't want to be sitting here waiting for them."

“Understood, sir.” Jinki frowned as his fingers flew across brightly lit screens with readouts from the ship and the surrounding space. "There's a nebula nearby, but … dammit, we won't survive it, Captain. With our shields as weak as they are, any radiation will leak right into the ship.” He cursed again under his breath. “Wait, there is an asteroid field nearby with masses big enough for us to hide behind."

"That'll have to do," Yunho answered. “Take position behind the biggest mass you can find.” He shoved his chair off his legs and got on his feet. His limbs moved easily and there was no blood, but he still stumbled as a searing pain radiated from the center of his shins. He headed for the turbolift on shaky legs. “I’m going to sickbay to get the casualty report. Yoochun, go down to engineering and light a fire under the crew. We need engines and shields, ASAP. Changmin, you have the bridge.”

“Captain,” Changmin asked taking his place at the center of the bridge. “What about Jaejoong? Are we abandoning him?”

Yunho stumbled into the lift, unsure if his unsteadiness was caused by the pain in his legs or his heart. “He wasn’t abandoned, Min. He was taken.”

“Captain, that doesn’t —”

Yunho ordered the doors of the lift closed before he could finish.

+++

The walk from the bridge to sickbay was one of the longest Yunho had ever taken. As he traveled down the wide corridors of the ship, he could see the full extent of the damage his ship had taken. Most of the walkways were dark, lit with only the ship’s red emergency lighting. Wires hung sparking from the ceilings and scorched holes from exploded power conduits marred the once new bulkheads like pockmarks.

Members of his crew acknowledged him as they sped to do repairs or assisted others to sickbay. When Yunho finally entered the small bay, the smell of antiseptic and burning flesh hung heavily in the air. He wrinkled his nose and turned to look for the doctor.

Junsu, along with one of his nurses, was leaning over a biobed, talking softly to whoever was in the bed. When he pulled back, Yunho could see he was holding the hand of a young lieutenant’s whose face was too bloodied and burnt to recognize. A few tense minutes later, the body on the bed went slack.

Junsu turned away, taking a moment to hide a stricken look before sliding back into his professional persona. He sent the nurse away to tend to another crew member. Stepping away from the bed, he looked up and met Yunho’s eyes. He shook his head softly and pulled the curtain closed behind him.

Once again Yunho’s mind asked him What are we doing out here?

"Doctor," he said instead. "I've come —”

Yunho never saw the fist that crashed into his face, but he did hear the cursing. The insults and names that were spewing from whomever was attacking him.

“Fucking, bastard! It’s all your fault!” a voice screeched. “You and your fucking robot’s!”

“Crewman!” Yunho heard the doctor shout out. Yunho looked up to see Junsu holding back the young crewman Yunho recognized from the incident in the cargo bay.

His eyes were burning with rage and his face was red and tear-streaked.

“Crewman,” Yunho bit out, cradling his sore cheek. “Explain yourself now.”

“He killed my friend! You killed my friend. The only reason those bastards attacked us is because he was on the ship.”

“Donghae, please —” Junsu began, but Yunho held up a hand to silence him.

“Calm down,” Yunho said softly. It took a lot for his voice to remain level. His cheek was throbbing, his legs were barely supporting him, and he was still too emotionally raw to even talk about Jaejoong. “Doctor?” he asked, meeting Junsu’s gaze again.

Tightening his grip on Donghae, Junsu’s eyes flicked over to the pulled curtain before landing back on Donghae’s piteously. The front of the crewman’s uniform was a mess of burns and blood, but he appeared to be uninjured. Yunho’s glare softened as he met Donghae’s pain-filled eyes.

“Hyukjae?” he asked softly.

Donghae answered with a pained half-sob.

Yunho felt his own eyes burn. “I’m sorry,” he began “I’m so sorry, Lee. I know that doesn’t fix anything, but I would hope that you would believe that I would never risk my ship or my crew recklessly.”

“You’re right,” Donghae growled. “That doesn’t fix anything. As captain, he —” Donghae pointed to the where his friend’s body lay “— should have been your first priority. Not that half-human thing!”

“That thing did everything he could to save this ship. To save all of our lives,” Yunho whispered harshly. “I understand you’re upset, crewman, but neither he nor I am to blame for this.” He looked up to speak with Junsu. “Let him go.”

“Captain, I don’t think —”

“We’re fine,” Yunho interrupted. “He’s fine. I will excuse his insubordinate behavior as a result of his grief.” He looked back at Donghae. “I understand your anger, crewman, but it won’t bring Lt. Lee back.”

Donghae’s face fell, his angry glare crumbling. He shrugged out of Junsu’s grasp and stormed out of the sickbay. Junsu sighed after him, the weariness in his voice evident.

“He’s injured, too.” he sighed. “He and everyone else from engineering have burns all over.”

“He’s upset, but he’s not stupid. He’ll come back if they start bothering him,” Yunho commented. He slumped down into a nearby chair. “What’s the damage, Doctor?”

Junsu pulled his PADD out of his lab coat’s pocket and slumped against the wall. “Eight dead,” he answered, voice calm, steady. “And 12 seriously injured, half of which are serious enough to need to remain in sickbay overnight for observation.” He slipped the PADD back in his pocket. “According to security, there are 10 people still missing.”

“Eleven,” he corrected softly. He forced himself to look composed, to look strong when Junsu stared down at him in confusion. “I’m so sorry, Doctor,” he said simply.

Junsu seemed to freeze for a moment before his shock became apparent on his face. “Jaejoong? They got him?” he asked, not sounding as if he could believe it. “Jaejoong … the Collective. They have him back?”

Yunho just nodded. Eight dead. Twenty-five injured. Ten missing in action (Eleven!, his mind painfully corrected). The Valiant's most recent battle with the Borg had also been the most deadly.

Junsu seemed to deflate at this and slide down the wall until he was seated on the floor. A minute later, Changmin, ever steady, always collected Changmin, entered the sickbay looking uncharacteristically frazzled.

“Captain,” he began, his voice weary. “We have taken position behind an asteroid. Repair teams have been assigned to the most damaged parts of the ship and have estimated that it will be 48 hours before we can continue on. Another 72 before we could even think about defending ourselves against … anyone.”

“Understood.”

“We’ve scanned the nearby area as much as we were able to,” Changmin continued. “There is no sign of the cube within a 1,000 kilometer radius.”

“Understood,” he repeated numbly.

With a sigh, Changmin bent low in front of Yunho’s chair. “Captain,” he began, voice low and soft. “They have Jaejoong. If they have assimilated him, we must be prepared in the likely event we’ll encounter them again.”

No. No, no, no. Yunho couldn’t think about that. Assimilation was cruel enough; the thought of reassimilation was doubly so. One of Five was a prisoner. Jaejoong was Human. Jaejoong was his.

It was too soon to try and plan for. Yunho was still too raw, too on edge to think, to plan strategy. He could barely make sense of the now. His ship was crippled. Members of his crew dead. Jaejoong abducted.

Jaejoong with the Borg.

Jaejoong reassimilated.

Yunho's breath rushed out of him as the truth of what had just happened hit him. Once again, he had failed. He'd promised to protect his crew and he promised Jaejoong he'd protect him from the Borg.

He’d kissed him goodnight and left him sleeping in his bed, safe and warm. Why couldn’t he protect anyone he loved?

He didn't realize he'd broken down until he felt Junsu's warm hand clasping his arm as he hovered above him. He'd fallen out of his chair and to his knees, panic and pain and anger dragging all of his strength out of his limbs and leaving him gasping for breath.

"Captain!" Junsu said low and warm under his breath. He motioned for Changmin to help him lift Yunho up until he could lead him to the privacy of a curtained off biobed. "Captain, are you alright?"

He opened his mouth to answer only to feel his throat tighten. Hot tears — borne of either frustration, fear or sadness, he wasn’t entirely sure — burned his eyes as he struggled to take another breath. His eyes widen as he felt himself choking. A warm hand settled on his back and pressed down, forcing him to slow his desperate gasps.

"Relax, Captain," Junsu soothed, voice low and soft. "You're just having a panic attack. Breathe slowly and you’ll be fine."

Yunho wanted to laugh. He wanted to, but he couldn't even gain control of his own lungs. He would not be fine. It was Wolf 359 all over again. Fire and death and Yunho losing someone to the monsters all over again. He'd barely survived it the first time; he saw little hope in getting past it now.

You’re hurting again.

Yes, Jaejoong, he thought mournfully. And I don’t think I’ll stop without you.

+++

Scanning grid 736. Negative.

Scanning grid 737. Negative.

Scanning grid 738. Negative.

Searching.

Retrieving last recorded information about USS Valiant.

Crew complement: 37. Weapons offline. Engines disabled.

Threat: none.

Rogue drone, One of Five, Auxiliary of Unimatrix 263, has been recovered.

Plot new course to sector 001.

Earth.

Prepare for assimilation.

+++

First officer’s log: It has taken more than two days to get the Valiant in suitable condition to begin our journey back to Federation space. While the ship has been easy enough to repair, I worry that the captain may not be.

“Engines?” Changmin inquired.

Yoochun flipped through his PADDs, looking for his report from the chief engineer. “We have impulse power and warp drive up to warp 5. Anything more than that and we risk burning the engines up.”

“Shields?”

“Completely fried. We’ve barely got enough energy to block cosmic radiation, but not much else.”

“How about weapons?”

Yoochun snorted humorlessly. “Look, Changmin, if we come across any hostile ships, we better just prepare to send the crew out to punch them, because it’s all the ship can do to get us back home.”

“Is there a reason you two are doing this here?” Yunho interrupted. He stood, dressed in his civilian clothes, watching the stars as they zipped past the large picture window of his quarters. He could feel Changmin’s eyes on him and tried not to bristle under his stare. After his embarrassing “display” in sickbay, he wanted nothing more than to be left alone.

His first and second officer, however, had other ideas.

Yoochun just took a long sip of his coffee and stood to grab more from the kitchen. Changmin simply crossed his arms and leaned back in his seat with a shrug.

“These are important matters dealing with the safety and maintenance of the ship,” he replied. “You should be informed.”

“Put it in a report.”

“Hardly acceptable. In times of emergency, federation regulations require the commanding officer to be notified of all issues with the crew and ship as they occur.”

“Speaking of which,” Yoochun piped up, voice annoyingly cheerful. “Captain, the replicator in your kitchen is broken.”

“Add it to the report,” Yunho snapped. He turned to head back to his bedroom. Changmin stood quickly and rushed to block his path.

“Captain,” he said, voice challenging.

“Lieutenant Commander,” Yunho shot back. “Get out of my way.”

Changmin didn’t cower. “You can’t afford to go through this again,” he stated firmly.

“What are you talking about?”

“This,” the Vulcan said gesturing toward the window. “This … obsessing won’t change anything. I would have thought you would have learned that after what happened on the Kyushu.”

Yunho’s narrowed and his jaw tightened in response.

A chuckle grabbed both of their attention and Yunho looked over to see Yoochun back at the small dining room table, once again skimming through his PADDs. “Oh, Commander, your therapy skills could use some work.”

“What would you have me do?” Yunho asked bitterly. “The ship is repaired, the crew has been accounted for and we’re on our way back to Federation space.”

Changmin looked at him expectantly. “I would have you be captain.”

Silence, and then a long exhalation of air. “I can’t, Min,” he said, voice low and angry. “I can’t. I want …” He choked back pained sigh. “I don’t think I can do this anymore.”

“You’re being irrational, Captain,” Changmin replied softly. “No matter what has happened, you’ve always been a good officer. And you still are.”

"I. Lost. Him." Yunho spit out. "I failed him."

"You saved us, Captain. You made sure the ship got away and took care of your crew. You acted admirably."

Yunho shook his head and shoved past Changmin. "I don't want platitudes, Min." He paused at the entrance to his bedroom before turning around and making his way back to the window.

"What do you want, Captain?" Yoochun asked. Both officers turned to find him still studying the PADDs.

Yunho scowled. He was in no mood to be mocked. "You know what I want. I can't—"

"I don't care what you can do," Yoochun replied. He finally lowered his reading and looked up to stare back at Yunho's reflection on the dark glass. "I asked what you wanted. Tell us what you want to do, Yunho."

Yunho hesitated a moment, eyes still locked on the darkness outside his window. "I want to be able to save him," he said finally. He turned to look at Yoochun, and when he spoke again, his voice was steady and sure. "I want to get Jaejoong back."

Yoochun considered this in silence, before his face split into a cheeky grin. "I figured as much." He pushed his chair away from the table and stretched his legs out in front of him. "So, go for it."

"Commander!" Changmin warned.

"You think I'm crazy?" Yunho scoffed at the same time.

"I think I don't want to see you lose it again like you did after Wolf 359,” Yoochun said calmly. “If that's what you want to do, if going out and looking for him before we leave would give you any closure, I don't see why you shouldn't at least try."

"It's suicide," Changmin said. He was glaring at Yoochun now, his clipped tone and tense body language belying his anger. “He would risk his own life to fulfill some ridiculous emotional need. It would be—”

“It would be illogical to risk the entire ship and all the lives of its crew to go after a single man,” Yunho finished for him. He spun back around to stare out into the starry expanse, shoulders tense with frustration.

Changmin nodded wisely. “Yes,” he agreed matter-of-factly. “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one.”

“Right,” Yunho said bitterly. “We’ve all heard that saying.”

After a few tense moments, Yoochun spoke again. “Yunho," he began softly. "We both know that what's logical isn't always right. You could attempt a search-and-rescue mission. You wouldn’t be the first captain to risk your ship to save a man.”

Yunho’s cheek throbbed as if in answer. He rubbed at it as he recalled the angry words of Lee Donghae. My fault? he wondered. It’s my fault eight of my crew are dead? How many on his ship agreed with that statement?

“I can't risk it,” he replied, nails digging into his palms as he said it. “The crew has been through enough.”

“Huh,” Yoochun breathed. “I thought Jaejoong was a part of your crew?”

Yunho turned on him, the pain still fresh and raw for all to see. "Don't," he whispered harshly. "Don't make this harder than it already is. Why do you care? You don't even like him.”

Yoochun appeared to be a bit shamefaced at that, but he didn’t back down. "He isn’t my favorite person, but I don’t hate him," he replied. "And I'm not cruel enough to think he deserved to be sent back to the Borg … or that you deserve to lose someone else."

Yunho’s jaw tightened and he looked away again. He ran frustrated fingers through his hair as he began pacing the deck. “It would be irresponsible of me. This is a science vessel; these officers are not trained in offensive operations.”

Yoochun shrugged. "Fine, then. Don't take the crew. Take a shuttle and go get Borgy back."

The seething emotion on Yunho's face disappeared for a moment as he stared at Yoochun in confusion. "What are you talking about?"

"Yunho," the other officer said kindly, face turning soft with pity. "I know you. I know you better than anyone else on this ship. I know what you went through after you lost your sister and Jihyo." Yunho flinched at their names. "You couldn't save them.”

“You don’t—” Yunho interrupted.

The first officer ignored him. “There's still a chance you could save Jaejoong, small and impossible as it is. I know you’ll beat yourself to death if you don’t take it, so … go. We'll take care of the ship; you go take care of him."

Changmin glared at him, visibly offended to his very Vulcan core, but he didn’t say anything. He looked over at Yunho, who appeared more and more conflicted the more Yoochun spoke.

"I can't abandon my crew,” he argued weakly. He fingered the insignia on his comm badge and shook his head. “I'm already facing a formal inquiry; leaving my post won't help my case."

"It would if you were leaving your post as part of an effort to save the Federation," Yoochun countered.

“What,” Changmin said flatly.

Yunho frowned. "Now what are you talking about?"

Rising from his seat, still cradling his cup of coffee, Yoochun moved to stand next to the silently fuming Changmin. He leaned slightly against the other man, resting his chin on his shoulder. Changmin shifted, none too subtly, in an attempt to put some distance between himself and the commander. “Min, my logic’s never been too good —”

“I have long been aware of that,” the Vulcan snapped irritably.

Yoochun rolled his eyes. “I’m serious; I have a point to make. If I remember correctly, it was you who stated that allowing Jaejoong to get reassimilated by the Borg would be a greater danger than allowing him to stay on our ship.”

Changmin nodded in concession. “That is correct.”

“Why?”

“Jaejoong learned a great deal not just about our ship, but about Federation capabilities. He would be a valuable asset to the Borg should they decide to attempt to assimilate Federation space. The information he could provide would aid them in defeating our defense systems, planning ahead for our offensive tactics and more.”

“So,” Yoochun drawled, pulling Changmin closer to him, “allowing the Borg to keep Jaejoong could endanger the billions of lives in the Alpha Quadrant.”

Changmin rolled his eyes. “Indeed.”

"That's a lot of people."

"Yes."

“One might say this ship is very few in comparison. In fact, you might even say that it would be incredibly irresponsible of us to not go and retrieve him.”

Changmin turned his head slightly to look at his superior officer. “Your point, Commander?”

“What does logic state, Min, about a ship of about 50 risking their lives to get a single man, if that action saves billions?”

Changmin arched an eyebrow as he considered this. “One could make a case that it would be a sound and rational decision.” Before Yoochun could celebrate his victory, Changmin raised a hand in warning. “However, you are forgetting that we have no idea if there is anyone to save. For all we know, the Borg could have assimilated Jaejoong as soon as they beamed him on board.”

"He could have resisted."

"Resistance is futile.”

"So I hear,” Yoochun answered, nonplussed. “But if anyone stands a chance against them, it'd be Borgy."

Changmin shook his head. "It would be unwise for the captain to take any sort of risk like that without a better understanding of what he'd face. We can't risk a rescue mission only to find out that Jaejoong gave in and returned to the Collective."

At those words, a brief memory, nothing more than a snippet of conversation shared more than a month ago, wormed its way to the front of Yunho’s mind.

“We would never have assimilated you, Captain."

“You might not have, but One of Five would. You would have done whatever the Collective told you to do. We both know this.”

“We … the Collective would order us to assimilate you, but we would resist. We would hate them for forcing us to do it.”

"He wouldn't," Yunho interrupted, the realization hitting him square in the chest, his thoughts clear for the first time in days.

Yoochun jumped slightly at his sudden outburst and Changmin simply frowned at him. "He wouldn't what?" he asked.

"He wouldn't give in. He'd resist. He'd fight them. He was ... he was starting to enjoy being Human." A burning heat coursed through his limbs and settled low in his belly as Yunho remembered teaching Jaejoong about the pleasures of being Human. Jaejoong had to come back, he decided. He still had a lot more to learn.

"How do you know?"

“We would never have assimilated you, Captain."

“You might not have, but One of Five would.”

“ ... we would resist.”

It was weak evidence, a promise that wouldn’t convince his security officer of anything. But it was plenty enough to give Yunho hope.

"They haven't assimilated him," he said with confidence. "He told me."

Yoochun gaped. "He told you? What? When? Can you hear him?"

"No," Yunho replied, a grin on his lips. "He told me awhile ago. He said he would resist. That as long as he had any control over himself, he'd never allow them to assimilate us."

"That's not very reassuring, Captain,” Changmin countered. “They could have easily assimilated us shortly after taking Jaejoong but before reassimilating him. We were in no position to put up much of a fight."

"But they didn't," Yoochun pointed out. "And the fact that they didn't and still haven't come to blast us out of space could mean that Borgy’s no more Borgified than when we last saw him.”

“They could still be searching for us.”

Yoochun leaned up against Changmin again. “Don’t be so optimistic, Min. It doesn’t suit you.” He took a sip of his coffee as the other man tried to shake him off and continued speaking unperturbed. “All they’d have to do is hook themselves up to his head and they'd know all our weaknesses. Nothing could stop them from beaming right on our bridge from wherever the hell they were. Not when Jaejoong could give them all the information they'd need to override our shield frequencies.”

“True,” Changmin agreed, somewhat reluctantly. He turned to study Yoochun with an interest. “This is more sound logic than I’m used to hearing from you.”

Yoochun smiled and waggled his eyebrows. “Keep flattering me like that, Commander, and I’ll have to fight Seohyun for you.”

Changmin shouldered him away. "Your inability to take anything seriously is beginning to border on insulting."

"Changmin," Yunho interrupted. He’d tried to fight the hope that was blooming in his chest, but the attempts were half-hearted at best. Jaejoong could be alive, could be resisting. But he wouldn’t be for long without help.

"Do you actually think ...?" he began, grasping Changmin’s arm. Yoochun's shaky grasp of logic and Starfleet regulations were one thing. The man would say anything to make Yunho feel better. Changmin, however, was not one to entertain such foolish notions, not even for his captain. “Do you think there’s a chance that Jaejoong could still be saved?”

"I think the commander wishes to cheer you up,” he answered with a long-suffering sigh. Then, his normally stern face softened just a fraction. “However, I can't say his reasoning is completely groundless."

"There's a chance ... I could go get him."

His face hardened again. "I didn't say that."

"No, but I did," Yoochun piped up. He draped an arm over Changmin's shoulders, giving them a squeeze. "So, what do you want to do, Captain?" he asked repeating his question.

Yunho smiled slowly. The answer was fairly obvious.

"What do you think, Commander? I want to save the Federation."

Yoochun grinned cockily and wide as Changmin tried to keep the worry off his face.

Jaejoong was out there. Yunho had never been more sure of anything in his short career as a captain. He’d kept his word.

So, Yunho would make sure to keep his.

+++

When Jaejoong woke up, he could hear nothing.

It was a relief, to say the least.

He was sprawled on the deck, sweaty and too-warm from the humid air of the cube. He couldn’t remember losing consciousness after the beam out, but he couldn’t remember much of anything after he took the turbolift to the Valiant’s bridge. He had no idea how long he’d been out. His mouth felt dry and the tread of the deck had left imprints on his face.

He looked around and took stock of where he was. He had been left — or had simply collapsed — near a row regeneration chambers located near the weapons systems of the cube. It was dark and uncomfortably quiet, especially since Jaejoong knew the mind of the Collective never ceased. Even more of a shock, he didn’t see a single drone. The chambers closest to him stood empty and he could see no movement in the weak light.

He clambered to his hands and knees, too dizzy to jump right up to his feet. He ran his hands along his limbs, checking for injury. He felt no blood nor broken bones. He was as whole as he was when he left Yunho's ship.

Yunho! The ship, the crew! They’d nearly been destroyed last Jaejoong could remember. He searched around the nearby deck, checking to see if anyone else had been transported with him. When he realized he was alone, his panic nearly choked him.

"Captain!" he gasped, tapping at his comm badge in desperation. "Come in." Silence. He opened the comm again. "Doctor? Cmdr. Park? Lt. Cmdr. Changmin? Can anyone hear me?" No reply. Either they couldn’t reply or — more likely — he’d been taken so far out of their communications range that they weren’t even receiving his hails.

Yunho, his crew. He had to get back to them. He had to make sure they survived. He stood, legs shaky under his weight, and peered over the nearby railing. The interior of the cube was too dark for him to make out anything definite, but the Valiant hadn’t been pulled on board, that he could be relatively sure of. The cube was too quiet, too … still. Drones would be rushing to and fro to pull the little ship apart had the Borg gotten it, ripping out its technology and installing it into the cube. New drones, lost and disoriented, would have been given their new designations and led to their new “home.” He wondered, with not much relief, why he’d been left alone.

With a weak flicker of light, the lighting of the ship brightened. It appeared someone knew he was awake.

"Who's there?" he shouted into the void of the ship.

The voices, the billions of voices that were as familiar to him as his own, spoke up. You already know us. We are Borg.

“Explain yourself,” he said, his voice weaker than he’d like. “Why are we —” he paused. “Why am I here?”

You are Borg.

“No. Not any more.”

You will always be Borg.

“I am Human,” he snapped back. He examined himself more closely in the weak light. He was still whole and the only implants on his person were the ones he had before they’d abducted him. “And it appears that I still am. Why haven't you reassimilated me?"

One of Five, Auxiliary Drone of Unimatrix 263. You will assist us in the assimilation of the Federation.

He froze, raw fear burning through his veins. “No.” He swallowed and put more force behind his words. “We— I don’t want to.”

Want is irrelevant. You will comply.

“No. I can’t let you hurt anyone.”

Resistance is futile. You cannot overpower or escape us. You will lead us to Sector 001 to begin our assimilation of Earth.

Jaejoong curled his lip, snarling at the voice. "You don't need us to assimilate Earth.”

Our attempts to assimilate Humanity have been unsuccessful. They are unexpectedly resilient.

He couldn’t help the smug chuckle that bubbled up. “Sounds more like they have resisted you.”

Their attempts to defeat us will be in vain. Our technology is far superior and we learn more about them with each assimilation.

“Like I said,” Jaejoong answered quietly. “You don’t need us.”

You are an individual Human and you are Borg. That makes you unique. Valuable. You have a proven ability to work with Humanity. You will speak for the Borg and prepare the Humans and the rest of the Federation for their eventual assimilation into the Collective.

“They won’t go. Nothing will ‘prepare’ them. They value their individuality too much to agree to join you.”

You will convince them.

“I will not,” he said bitterly.

Disobedience is not a recommended course of action. Above him, Jaejoong could hear the whir of energy as something began to power up.

“It’s not disobedience,” he answered, fear causing his voice to break. “It’s an observation. You’re wasting your time. They will fight you. They will destroy many of you before they destroy themselves.” He swallowed the tremor he felt in his voice. “It will be a waste.”

They do not understand. Individuals are small. Insignificant. We can make them more. Help them find order from the chaos. They can bring us closer to perfection. We are willing to make any sacrifices that must be made.

“Then why do you need us?”

Your assistance will make our assimilation of the Federation more efficient. However, we will overtake it with or without your cooperation. One of Five, you will comply.

He didn't answer.

Drone, you will comply or we will hunt down and destroy the USSValiant.

Jaejoong bit back his cry of fear, but couldn’t stop himself from shouting out in a panicked rage. “Why? They have nothing to do with this!”

You value them. You have repeatedly demonstrated a concern for their survival. If you wish for them to live, you will comply.

"You don't need the Valiant," he tried again. "That's why you haven't destroyed it already. It is one ship with a small crew. Hardly worth the Collective's time."

Time is irrelevant. We are not bound by such constraints. If you do not give us the assistance we need, will hunt the ship down and destroy it. Then, we will reassimilate you.

A small detail caught Jaejoong’s attention and he cocked his head in confusion. “‘Hunt down?’” he repeated cautiously. “You don't know where it is?”

A heavy silence permeated the ship before the voices replied. Do not ask questions. Comply or we will destroy that ship and its crew.

He swallowed. If there was one thing the Collective didn’t do, it was make empty threats. The Valiant would survive so long as Jaejoong did what they ordered. Could he hand over the Earth to save Yunho?

When he didn't answer immediately, the voices of the Collective seemed to grow in number.

One of Five, the voices reverberated, its power shaking the deck of the ship. You will comply.

He had no other choice.

"We will comply," he repeated weakly. For now, he thought to himself. He relished in the ability to keep his thoughts as his own. It wasn’t much of a strength, but as long as he could think on his own, he could protect the crew. His crew.

He stumbled in a show of exhaustion and turned to lean heavily on the railing of the catwalk. "But I ... I’m fatigued. The ship … it didn’t have proper regeneration capabilities.”

The chamber closest to him whirred to life.

Regenerate, drone. You will assist us following your cycle.

The ship went silent and Jaejoong had the distinct impression he had just been dismissed.

The Collective had lost track of the Valiant. That was surprising, but good news to hear. It would give him time — not much, but enough for him to find a way to prevent the cube from reaching Earth.

As he plugged himself into the alcove, his mind scrambled for some plan of action. Whatever he did, it would have to be widespread. He’d have to reach all Borg throughout the galaxy. He could destroy this cube — and blow himself up along with it — but it wouldn't stop them from simply sending another after the ship.

We bring order to chaos, the voices of the Collective echoed in his mind as he felt the familiar pulse of energy shoot through his implants. The current was as strong and steady as it had always been. The Valiant hadn’t been able to damage even the most minor systems on the cube.

Well, maybe, there was a way. The Collective had said he was unique. A Borg who was an individual. A Human who knew the mind of the Collective.

He couldn’t stop the Borg. Not completely.

But, he could bring chaos to order.

Chapter Text

Captain's log, stardate 45123.9: Jaejoong has been captured. While we are under the assumption that he's not yet been reassimilated by the Borg, we cannot risk leaving him to their mercy. Simply put, he knows too much about this ship, this crew and the Federation. I have decided to go alone, via a shuttlecraft, and retrieve him. While I feel an obligation to Jaejoong, I will not allow my crew to endanger themselves by attempting a dangerous rescue mission.

The response Yunho was met with after sharing the details of his plans was only one step shy of mutinous.

“Captain, are you insane?” Jinki rose from his station, panic and confusion warring on his face. "You'll never make it out alive in a shuttlecraft!"

"Thank you for that encouragement, ensign," Yunho answered. His voice and words were calm but his face revealed his irritation at being spoken in such a way. "Still, you have your orders."

"Captain," Yuri spoke up. She shot a worried glance at Jinki before steeling herself to meet Yunho's eyes. "You'll never catch up to their ship. Not in a shuttle. It's impossible."

"Lieutenant —"

Yuri didn't wait for him to finish. "The Valiant may not be the most powerful ship in the fleet, but is the fastest. If you have any chance, it's with us."

"Again, I appreciate the concern,” he said firmly. “But I won't risk your lives." The mournful gaze of Crewman Lee flashed before his mind's eye, and Yunho strengthened his resolve. No matter how brave his crew felt, this was not a fight he would let them join.

"All due respect," Hyoyeon spoke up softly, "we can't allow you to risk yours. You're our captain. We need you." The comment wasn't meant to be taken as sentiment. A captain was supposed to lead his crew.

"The commander is a capable officer. He'll see you all safely back to Federation space."

"I don't know," Yoochun spoke up. He'd stopped his pacing at the front of the bridge to flop down into Yunho's command chair. Crossing his arms, he screwed his face up in mocking concentration. "They make a good case. The Valiant is faster.”

Yoochun was an asshole, Yunho decided. A smug and flippant asshole who Yunho would have demoted if it was his last formal action as captain.

Instead, he told him, "Commander, you have your orders. If I don't return in 36 hours, you are to resume heading back home."

Yoochun swiveled the chair around to face Yunho and the rest of the crew, crossing his legs at his ankles.

"Sorry, Captain. I can't do that."

Yunho inhaled sharply at Yoochun's blatant disobedience and everyone else on the bridge seemed to sense the tension.

"Yoochun," he began, voice even. "I am still the senior officer of this ship and I expect my orders to be followed."

"I understand," Yoochun replied seriously. "But Jinki and Yuri are right. Your orders are kind of stupid."

Yunho nearly sputtered. “ … Stupid? This was your idea.”

“Only because you were so torn up over endangering the crew. Now that we know they're willing to help, your plan is stupid.”

“I hate to agree with the commander,” Changmin piped up. “But I agree. Your orders are … not wise.”

"Captain, we all owe Jaejoong," Yuri said soothingly. "It would be selfish of us not to assist you."

"How's that saying go again, Min?" Yoochun leaned back in the chair, a cheeky grin on his face. "'The wants of the few outweigh the needs of the many?'"

Changmin scowled. "That's not at all correct."

Yunho bristled at having his judgment questioned in front of and by the bridge crew. "Well, since no one on this ship outranks me, you will carry them out, no matter how stupid, unwise or selfish they may be."

Yoochun shrugged, not a hint of irritation or intimidation evident in the hitch of his shoulders. "Doc outranks you ... sort of."

"What are you implying?"

"Your reckless behavior could be seen as a sign of shock or depression or PTSD — or whatever, I'm no doctor — following a run-in with the Borg. Junsu would be well within his power to have you declared unfit for command."

Yunho stalked over to stand in front of Yoochun in the command chair. He glared down at the other officer, tense and imposing.

"Your threats aren't funny, Commander."

"Not a threat," Yoochun replied, refusing to back down. "The crew wants to help, so let them or I'm calling Junsu. I’d hate to put the poor doctor in the middle of our fight, but I know he'll take my side. He likes me more than you."

Yunho turned to look back at his crew. The junior officers — Hyoyeon, Yuri and Jinki — avoided meeting his eyes. Changmin looked at him as unbothered as ever, and Yoochun — his manipulative, conniving and bastard of a friend — was looking up at him with a smile from his command chair. He was already tapping at the controls and scanning nearby space.

"I could report all of you for insubordination," he bit out with no real anger.

"But you won't," Yoochun said. The presumptuousness of his tone would have offended Yunho in any other situation.

"The commander’s actions are extremely out of line,” Changmin offered. “Nevertheless, we do not wish to see you suffer again."

Yunho sighed, his token protests dying on his tongue. "You'll get in trouble. The Valiant's orders were to return to Earth."

“And she will," Yoochun replied. "Once all of our crew is back on board."

+ + +

Sometimes, Yoochun regretted just how kick-ass of a first officer he actually was.

Like when he convinced his captain to confront an enemy that had the ability to destroy them with one phaser blast.

"You know," Yoochun huffed as he crouched next to Changmin, shining a light underneath the large security station where the other officer was working. "I'm not sure I'm comfortable with just how close to death we were last time we met these bastards."

Changmin frowned, never taking his eyes from the tangle of burnt out wires and circuits he was busy replacing. "Neither am I. If only you had remembered that fact before you convinced the captain to reengage them."

"I thought the plan would be fly in, beam Jaejoong out of the ship, and fly like hell back home," he countered. "I wasn't expecting Yunho to go full wounded-bird gambit."

"It's a smart plan," Changmin replied, despite his obvious disapproval. "If we tried to engage the Borg in direct conflict, we'd be destroyed. If we make them believe we're giving them what they want, we may have a chance of surviving the encounter."

"Don't you think they're too smart to fall for such an obvious trap?"

"Smart, yes. I certainly believe that. However, I also believe they are far too arrogant of their own capabilities to let their suspicions stop them."

Yoochun watched as the other man worked, nimble fingers routing extra power from their shields to their weapons. Not that anyone actually believed the boost of power would help. Rather, it was done more to attract the Borg with the lure of technologically advanced artillery.

Out of everyone on the crew, Changmin had to have known all this work would be pointless. If Yoochun knew the man as well as he thought he did, the Vulcan had probably already calculated the exact probability of the crew's survival. And, yet he worked as diligently and as unaffected as always. Yoochun couldn't help the bittersweet pang of pride that pricked his heart.

"Have you spoken to Seohyun recently?" he asked.

The Vulcan paused in his work to give Yoochun a curious look. "We speak everyday."

"Well, that's ... surprisingly thoughtful of you."

Changmin frowned, looking slightly offended. "We are husband and wife. It is logical and in our best interests to keep up with one another."

"Logical," Yoochun repeated. "I suppose, it is. Did you tell her about ... " Yoochun waved around at the damaged bridge. "... all of this?"

"Of course."

"And?"

Changmin paused, seemingly gathering his thoughts. "She is, for lack of a better word, concerned about our welfare. She knows better than anyone how dangerous the Borg are. She wants for me to return home safely."

"Do you think you will?"

Changmin didn't answer, instead returning to his work among the wires of the overworked security station.

"Commander, you're not being very reassuring right now."

"What I think will or will not happen is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is how well we work when the time comes."

Yoochun sighed and leaned forward to give Changmin more light. "Still not reassuring."

"I disagree. I think this is a suicide mission, Commander. I can think of no logical reason to endanger the crew or this ship by using it as bait to save one man." Changmin slammed the panel to the station closed and gave an uncharacteristic sigh. He sat back on his heels and straightened his uniform.

"I've often observed that Humans will refuse to consider negative outcomes out of fear of making those thoughts a reality."

"Dwelling on negativity doesn't do much for morale, Min."

"And simply wishing for the best does not allow for much realistic planning," Changmin snapped back. "However," he said, tone softening, "the reality is, our thoughts — good or bad — have no bearing on what will actually take place. So, even while I sit here thinking we could all easily be destroyed, that will not make it so. Only our actions and how well we prepare will determine our survival."

Yoochun rose from the deck, dusting off the knees of his pants, and offered Changmin a hand up.

"I gotta go arm the crew. You know, in the very likely event drones come aboard. I take it you're willing to help me reprogram the phasers so the Borg don't adapt so quickly?"

Changmin took his hand and let Yoochun help pull him up. "Of course, Commander."

Stretching his arm over the other man's shoulder, he pulled him into a one-armed hug. Changmin wiggled out of the embrace with ease.

"Commander ..."

"When we get back home, you, Seohyun and I should hang out. I think I'd like you more when she's around. Just talking about her makes you slightly less of unbearable asshole."

Changmin grabbed his tool kit. "I'm not an asshole, sir. And you're not getting anywhere near my wife."

It was such a ridiculous thing for Changmin — for any Vulcan — to say, and Yoochun couldn't help but laugh.

They could both be dead this time tomorrow.

Forgetting that, even for a moment, was such a relief.

+ + +

“Captain, this is so extreme.” Junsu gripped his hypospray tightly. "There's got to be some other way we can prepare for this."

"There isn't, Doctor. You, your research, are our best bet. I need you."

“We have no idea how this will affect our crew, let alone if it will even offer any protection from being—”

“Doctor,” Yunho interrupted. “We don’t have many other options. I trust you. You’re an excellent physician. You saved Jaejoong, yes?”

“That was different," Junsu answered with a scowl.

“Not really.” Yunho leaned forward and offered his neck to the doctor. “There’s no one else on this ship I’d trust with this.”

Junsu looked back from his captain to the vial of antibodies clutched in his hand. He’d been given less than two hours to come up with the concoction, and no opportunities to test its safety.

“Captain,” he began again. “I beg of you—”

“Give me the spray, Doctor. Now.”

Junsu administered the antibodies with a resigned sigh. Yunho didn’t convulse or show any other sign of adverse reaction, so he took that as a good sign.

"How do you feel?"

Yunho stood, shaking his limbs loose. "I don't feel anything. I'm thinking that's good?"

Junsu released a breath he hadn't realized he was holding. "Yes, for now."

"Good. Start administering this to the crew, targeting high-risk crew members and officers first. If they ask what it is, just tell them it's a vaccine. That's close enough to the truth."

"Aye, Captain."

"Have you prepared the other thing I asked for?"

Junsu's scowl curved into a full frown. "Yes, sir, but I have to say I'm completely against this."

"Give me the spray, Doctor."

"Will you at least let me explain why I find this so dangerous?"

"Sure, as long as you do it while giving me the spray."

Another sigh and another frown. Junsu popped the empty vial out of his spray, loaded it and gave Yunho the dose.

“What do I tell the others?” he asked softly as he ran a curious finger across the area the spray had been administered.

Yunho gently slapped his hand away, then shook his head. “Nothing. Nothing at all. That’s an order. This stays between me and you.”

Junsu opened his mouth to argue but Yunho shot him a disapproving look.

“Yes, Captain.”

“If it helps, I have no plans of needing it. This is only a last resort. I have no plans of getting assimilated.”

“I’m sure few people ever make plans to get assimilated, sir. That doesn’t stop it from happening.”

“I’m willing to risk that,” Yunho replied honestly. “For Jaejoong.”

“For Jaejoong,” Junsu repeated. He gave a quick nod and turned back to his crowded lab table. "Do you ... do you really think he's still alive?" he asked. "Still ... himself?"

"We haven't seen anything to prove otherwise."

Junsu just nodded. "I'm just worried about him. His mind and will are still very fragile, Captain." He stopped and swallowed back his words with a shaky sigh. "I don't know if he could survive assimilation and being ripped from the Collective a second time."

"What other options do we have, Doctor?" Yunho asked, voice harder than he meant for it to be.

Junsu raised a placating hand. "I'm sorry. Don't be upset. I'm just thinking ahead. Planning for the worst." He grinned sadly. "It's a habit that comes with the job."

The tension that had been thrumming throughout Yunho's body seemed to ease at that confession, because in all honesty, he hadn't considered what he'd do if they discovered Jaejoong had been reassimilated. He just knew that Jaejoong would be coming back to his ship, one way or another. He took a deep breath in, steadying himself.

"You keep planning, Doc, and let the commander know if you need anything."

Junsu nodded before popping another dose of medicine into his hypospray and handing it to Yunho. “Here. It’s an extra dose in case you get on the cube and Jaejoong’s already …” Junsu couldn’t finish the sentence. “In case he needs it.”

“Will this bring him back?”

The doctor shrugged, shoulders weary. “I don't know, but it could give us a few extra minutes of cooperation to bring him back onboard and into sickbay.”

Yunho tucked the spray securely in his jacket. “Of course. I’m going to do my best to bring him back, Doctor. Just him. I plan to leave the rest of the Collective behind.”

"I hope so, Captain. Good luck."

+ + +

The automatic door to Jaejoong's quarters swooshed closed quietly behind Yunho as he slowly padded his way to the small, low couch along the wall of the front room. The entire space was eerily quiet in the silence of the resting ship. After nearly 12 straight hours of repair work and last-minute drills, Yunho had ordered the entire ship — save a small and necessary skeleton crew — to go get some rest.

He had nearly run himself ragged, strategizing with the bridge crew, overseeing the badly needed repair work and inoculating the crew with Junsu's makeshift vaccine. Yunho hadn't seen the inside of his own quarters in nearly a day.

He didn't want to sleep, though. He had to keep busy, keep working, keep trying to find Jaejoong.

His gaze fell on the family photo sitting on the shelf across the room, on the face of the baby sitting on his parents lap. It had always been difficult to see Jaejoong in that child's face. He was no innocent. He had admitted to assimilating and killing millions. And he would have gone on doing so if he hadn't crossed paths with Yunho.

Still, Yunho had never felt the loss that baby suffered more acutely than he did at that very moment.

The chime at his door interrupted his thoughts and Changmin walked in without waiting to be welcomed in.

"I come with more reports, sir."

Motioning for Changmin to take a seat on the couch, Yunho rose to get coffee from the replicator. He had briefly thought about dropping by sick bay to see what the doctor could give him, but Junsu had been watching him with the judgment and concern of a disapproving parent.

He punched the buttons on the appliance's screen and frowned in annoyance when nothing happened.

"This replicator's malfunctioning," he called back to Changmin. "Give me a sec."

"It's not the replicator Captain." Changmin replied. “Redistribution of the ship's main power supplies has been completed. Once we're ready, we can fully power up the ship: weapons, engines and shields will be powered at nearly three times the energy they were originally designed to put out. As a result, all non-essential systems have been taken offline. That includes replicators, the holodeck, and some environmental controls.”

Of course. Yunho should have remembered that. He leaned forward against the wall, resting his head on the cool bulkhead of the cabin and let out a weary sigh.

"I'm falling apart, Min."

"I've noticed. May I recommend you get some sleep?"

"You sound like the doctor."

"He has been one of the more rational voices on this ship."

Yunho snorted, before pushing off against the wall. He stretched his arms out, rubbing at a crick in his neck, before falling back onto the couch. “Your report, Commander?”

“We've found a spot where the Valiant can lure the Borg. There are no nearby moons, nebulas, asteroid fields or any other hiding places, so once we've got their attention, we'll be very alone, Captain. If things were to go wrong...”

“Is there anything else?” Yunho interrupted, allowing that thought to go unspoken.

“All of the ship's emergency pods have been prepped and are ready for launch should we need them. The commander and I have everything under control on the bridge." Taking note of Yunho's worn features, Changmin set his PADDs aside. "Is there anything you need help with?”

Yunho turned away, only to end up staring at the empty bedroom and the unmade bed.

“No. I think I’m as ready as I can be. Go get some sleep, Min. Tomorrow, we'll lay the trap.”

The officer nodded, stoic as ever.

"We've done what we can to prepare, Captain. No matter how it turns out, you've done what you could to ensure our safety." He stood and turned to leave, as tall and proud as ever, and for a moment, Yunho wished he could be as unaffected by emotion and fear as he was.

"Changmin," Yunho called out, unable to stop himself. "Tell me you think this is a good plan. That it's not as hopeless as everyone is trying to pretend it's not. I … I need to hear it from you."

Hands clasped loosely behind his back, the Vulcan looked away thoughtfully. "I will not lie to you, Captain. You know that."

"I know. That's why I asked."

Changmin took slow, thoughtful steps as he closed the distance between them. "There is a 64.987 percent chance of us being able to successfully draw the Borg to our coordinates," he said, voice clipped and clinical. "And 53.918 percent chance that you'll be able to sneak aboard their ship. Once on, it is only 13.81 percent likely that you will be able to find Jaejoong, and then there is only 8.219 percent chance that we will be able to escape with him and avoid being completely assimilated. All in all, the overall probability of success is less than 3 percent."

Yunho gave a humorless chuckle. "Believe it or not, those are better odds than I originally thought."

"They are not precise, however. Jaejoong has proven to be a rather consistent outlier. He survived a cube explosion, his disconnection from the Collective and possibly repeated reassimilation attempts by the Borg. The odds of us saving him are quite low; the odds of him saving us, however, are much more hopeful."

A small, relieved smile quirked on Yunho's lips. "Hope is illogical, Commander."

Changmin gave an annoyed sigh, before turning to leave again. "Yes, it is, but I'm surrounded by Humans who insist I do it anyway."

Yunho grinned in the darkness and settled himself more comfortably on the couch. "Have a good night, Commander."

"You do the same, Captain."

+ + +

The next morning, at 0900, the USS Valiant fired up all her engines. Her new power adjustments lied to every scanner that picked her up. She seemed bigger than she physically was, faster and more powerfully armed than a ship of her size could have realistically been.

By 0907, she had caught the attention of the Borg.

At 0908, she was declared "worthy of assimilation."

And by 0909, the nearest cube — the same cube that had nearly destroyed her two days ago — took a detour on its flight to Earth and moved to pursue.

Chapter Text

Jaejoong had a plan.

A suicidal and most likely ineffective plan, but he had one, which was more than what he had a few hours earlier.

The Borg, as advanced and powerful as they were, still had their flaws. The biggest, of course, was their lack of attention toward individuals. The second? Their inability to process conflicting information. When the hive mind gathered new information that conflicted with old information, it had the potential to set off a chain of failures.

He had realized during his regeneration that the Borg weren't screening any of their thoughts. Information about the cube, its systems, and the ship's drones — Jaejoong could hear it all.

He could hear that, despite repeated run-ins with the ship, the Borg didn't have much information about the Valiant. They didn't know its current location and were still apparently baffled at how the ship had found the power to outrun them those many weeks ago.

It would be a simple thing for Jaejoong to simply poison the well.

He wouldn't be able to delete the knowledge of Yunho's ship from the hive mind, but he should be able to muddle it. Swap a letter or two in the ship's registry, minimize its capabilities, send confusion throughout the Collective about just what it is they were looking for and why. The Collective was, in essence, a giant network. A piece of bad code could cause the whole chain of information to fall apart.

It wouldn't save Earth. It probably wouldn't even save him. Once the Collective realized he was the source of their conflicting data, they'd deactivate him.

"They'll kill us. Me," he forced himself to say out loud. If anything, his recapture by the Borg had proven to him that he wasn't a drone anymore and refused to talk about himself as one.

It was a desperate plan, muted scream in a cacophony of voices. But before that happened, though, he'd do all he could to give the Valianta fighting chance.

The fear he expected to feel didn't come. Rather, he felt determined. He'd die protecting Yunho, his crew, and his new home. He was oddly at peace with that.

His thoughts were interrupted as something above him whirred to life, and he straightened in his alcove.

Awake, drone.

He ignored them, playing as if he was still regenerating. He may have thought of a plan, but what he still didn't have — and desperately needed — was time. Time to make those bad connections, to punch all those holes.

One of Five, comply.A sudden charge shot through the alcove and right into his arm. He jumped from the conduit that connected him to the energy source and stumbled onto the walkway.

One of Five.

Jaejoong shouted in pain. His arm tingled and his fingers felt numb where they gripped the metal handrails in front of him. He was now more Human than this technology was made for. “What do you want?”

We are heading to Sector 001 now. Report to level 012 to help prepare the population for assimilation.

Jaejoong’s stomach dropped. He wasn’t expecting things to go this fast. “Already? We need more time.”

We disagree. We are prepared to attack the Humans and the Federation today.

“But I’m not!” Jaejoong argued. “I’m … I need more energy. I told you I wasn’t able to regenerate fully on that ship. I —”

Out of nowhere, a drone exited the shadows and twisted Jaejoong's arm. Forcing him to his knees, the drone grabbed his chin and placed his closed fist near Jaejoong’s neck. He knew without seeing them that the drone’s assimilation tubules were mere centimeters from his skin.

“What are you doing!?” he choked out.

If you are unable to regenerate as you are, we will bring you back into the Collective. You will no longer experience any energy deficiencies.

“No! You said you needed me as an individual!”

Your cooperation is more valuable to us than your individuality.

“I will cooperate,” Jaejoong begged. “I just need more time to regenerate. The Humans need more time, as well.”

The drone let him go and he dropped to his hands and knees. He'd be a bruised and battered mess if he ever survived his time here. Explain.

Scrambling for some excuse, Jaejoong thought back to what Yunho had told him about what would happen when the Valiantreturned to Federation space. “They’re expecting you … us. You— weshould wait. Give the Humans time to drop their guard. Surprise them. It’ll be easier to overpower them that way.”

We can overpower them regardless of how prepared they are.

He swallowed down his fear and anger and tried again. “You said you wanted my insight," he hissed. "You said I could convince them. The best chance of that happening is while they’re scared and confused.”

You are stalling, drone. We will not tolerate your delaying of our directive.

“What delay? You’ve already wasted time chasing after the Valiant. What’s one more week?” He was panting, raw and ragged. It was dangerous to bluff the Collective. There was too much to lose if they’d decide to call him out on it.

Suddenly, the drone that had grabbed him turned sharply on its heel and marched back into the darkness. Beneath him, Jaejoong could feel the subtle shifting of the deck as the cube jumped to warp speed.

"What's going on?" he demanded, scrambling to his feet. "Where are we going now?"

Plans have changed. A ship has been detected in sector 749. We will pursue and assimilate.

"A ship? What kind of ship?"

A Federation vessel. Small but with powerful technology and a limited crew. We will easily overtake it. Report to level 012 to assist.

Jaejoong’s blood seemed to turn into ice in his veins. "A Federation vessel?" he repeated. It would have been too much of a coincidence for another Federation ship to be this far into deep space. "It's the Valiant. We had an agreement that you wouldn't touch them."

We had no such agreement.

"You can't—"

A forcefield appeared in front of Jaejoong, shimmering as it solidified around him.

You will not be allowed to interfere with our plans any further, drone. The vessel USS Valiant has been found and will be assimilated. Once we have taken it, we will resume to Earth. Disrupt our plans and you will be destroyed.

Jaejoong slammed a desperate hand against the forcefield, the sting of the barrier burning his palm.

“Let me out!” he screamed into the darkness. "They're nothing to you. Leave them alone!" There was no answer. Instead, he heard the hum of the cube as it powered up its engines and weapons and prepared to attack.

+     +     +

We are the Borg. Lower your shields and prepare to be assimilated. Resistance is futile.

“I’ve heard that nearly half a dozen times now and it’s still creepy as fuck,” Yoochun groused from his spot in the command chair. "Red alert," he announced to the crew. He tapped at his comm. “Captain, our friends are here.”

Yunho moved to get in place on the transporter pad, a crew member helping him to strap a rifle on his back. He double-checked the pocket of his field flak jacket to ensure the extra hypo spray Junsu had given him was still safely tucked away.

“Have they taken any aggressive action?” he asked.

“Just their normal spiel about how much they own us.”

“Good. Don’t reply. Don’t engage. Remain completely passive, but keep our defenses up as long as you can.”

"Captain,” Jinki cut in over the comm. “They’re scanning us."

"Can you scan them?"

"Yes, sir. One life sign detected."

The hope that flooded Yunho's being hurt. "Jaejoong?"

"I can't confirm that, sir, but it would be a safe guess. There are no other life signs detected even though we know that cube is manned by drones. If Jaejoong had not yet been assimilated, it would explain the separate life sign."

“Where is he, ensign?”

“On deck 78 of the cube, near their engine room, er … or what I think is their engine room. There is a whole lot of energy near him.”

“Send the coordinates to the transporter room. They’ll lower their shields when they beam over to board the ship. Let us know as soon as that happens.” He tapped the comm line close and nodded to the crewman standing at the transporter controls. “Once we get the signal, beam me over.”

Changmin frowned. “You shouldn’t be going over alone, captain. That’s against protocol.”

“This whole mission is against protocol, Min. What’s another broken rule?”

“I would feel better if you went with back-up.”

“I will have back-up,” Yunho said, unable to keep the smile from his face. “Jaejoong will be there.”

“You know that’s not what I mean," the Vulcan replied, clearly exasperated.

"Look, Min, within a few minutes, drones will be beaming onto this ship to assimilate this crew. Hell, I'll probably be a lot safer over there than I will here. Anyone you send with me would be better used protecting the Valiant."

Changmin gave a loud, annoyed sigh, which Yunho took as an admission of defeat. "Once you're over there, Captain, we won't be able to retrieve you until we've disabled the cube."

"Understood."

“Captain!” Jinki interrupted. “They’re beaming over. Their shields are down!”

“Transport me over,” Yunho ordered the crewman. Before disappearing completely, he turned and gave a resolute grin to Changmin. “Watch over the crew, Min.”

+     +     +

The first thing Yunho was aware of when he materialized on the cube was how poorly lit it was. Upon realizing he was standing for all to see in the middle of a wide catwalk (those who could see in the smothering darkness,) he pressed himself against the nearest bulkhead. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dim surroundings. The only available light was what came from the glow of nearby machinery and work stations, which cast every lit surface in a sickly green blemish.

Yunho looked out at the long, narrow catwalk that stretched in front of him. It was one of nearly a hundred that appeared to run along the perimeter of the cube. He took the chance to lean over the high railing and peer into the massive void in the center of the cube, but all he could see was more darkness.

He pulled out a phaser and the tricorder that Junsu had configured for him. With all the scans and surgeries the doctor had performed, he had identifying information on Jaejoong down to the molecular level. If the man were nearby, it should prove easy enough to find him. Holding the device up, it gave a muted beep, directing Yunho forward. He'd only gone a few feet forward when he came upon a sickening discovery: Rows upon rows of hundreds of drones still plugged into regeneration chambers.

He couldn’t help the nausea that roiled in his gut. Like the twisting of a knife, the combined feeling of fear and hot rage nearly caused him to cry out. But as he looked closer, taking a moment to calm himself, a new and more unexpected feeling emerged: pity.

He studied the drones as he walked slowly past, and to his horror, he began to recognize the true species of the people standing in them. There so many Humans, Vulcans and Romulans. A few Klingons here and there, and one drone who looked to be a barely adult Bajoran. There were a few other species he couldn’t recognize.

They’re all victims, he realized. The Borg was an entire species made of nothing but victims. The thought just served to make him angrier. Who was responsible for this? Who would pay? If he couldn’t hate the drones, the very ones who carried out the Borg’s atrocities, who could he hate?

“Yunho,” a soft voice behind him gasped. He whirled around and standing there, was Jaejoong. He could barely make him out in the shadows and darkness, but he was there, as whole and as Human as when was abducted off his bridge.

“Yunho?” Jaejoong asked again, eyes wide with fear. “What are you doing here?”

Yunho didn’t answer. Not with words, anyway. Dropping his tricorder and phaser, he moved to press Jaejoong against the solid bulkhead, only to be stopped by a strong forcefield.

“What’s this?” he asked, somewhat agitated. He pressed a hand against the outside of the barrier, wincing at the small electric shock. “A forcefield. I can’t touch you.”

“I've angered them. They think I am a threat to their plans.”

“You’re still …” Yunho gasped, nearly lightheaded with relief. “You’re still Human.”

Jaejoong pressed as close to the forcefield — as close to Yunho — as he comfortably could and smiled.

“Yes,” he murmured back. He raised a hand, wishing he could prove just how Human he still was with his touch. “Yes. They say they need me as I am.” He swallowed nervously then forged ahead. “They will assimilate your ship and then, Earth. I am so sorry, Yunho. I can’t help you anymore.”

“I'm getting you out of here,” Yunho replied, seeming to ignore what Jaejoong said. "I'm taking you back to the ship and getting all of us out of here."

Jaejoong shook his head piteously. “You can’t.”

“Can so. I have a secret weapon. You just have to trust me.”

"No, captain. It is too dangerous. If we do anything to make this forcefield fall, they’ll know you’re here. They will destroy both of us. Very easily. You have to leave!" Jaejoong ignored the niggling thought that told him the Collective should have already realized what was going on.

"I can't. I made a promise to you. Stand back, Jaejoong." Yunho picked up his phaser and aimed it where the forcefield met the floor.

Stubborn Human, Jaejoong thought crossly. "I can do what I can to distract the Collective. It'll give you and your crew time to escape."

"I can't let you do that."

“Yunho — “

Yunho slammed a hand on the forcefield, causing it to shimmer and spark. “No! They can’t have you, too!” His eyes burned in frustration. “They’ve taken too much from me already. I won't let them take another person I care about. That I love. Not again!”

The words, so foreign to Jaejoong, stopped him in his tracks. "What did you say?" he asked softly.

"You heard me. Why do you think I came back for you?" He raised a hand, tracing the outline of Jaejoong’s face through the damn barrier that separated them. "You told me you'd never let the Borg hurt me again," he said softly. "Don't you get it? Without you, I ... I have no reason to leave this ship."

Jaejoong felt as if he couldn’t breathe. “Your crew …”

“Will only be able to wait for me for so long. Then they’ll go. I stay with you or you come with me. Those are the only options.”

“They need you.”

“You need me more. So what’s the plan, Jaejoong?”

Jaejoong looked up at him. This man, this wounded and naïve Federation captain who — in the grand scheme of things — was of no importance to the universe, yet who still thought he could defeat forces so much greater than him.

“We’ve tried this before, Captain,” he whispered gently, thinking back to the burning ship on the holodeck. “We haven’t had much luck escaping Borg-infested ships.”

“We have better odds this time,” Yunho replied with a grin. “This time, we have help. I drop this forcefield, we go someplace safe and they'll beam us back to the Valiant. We’ll all make our escape from there.” Yunho said low, under his breath. “Easy.”

It would never be easy. If they survived the Borg, they’d have the Federation to deal with next. But he’d rather have years of difficulty with Yunho than one more hour on this ship.

“Commander Park will be very upset that you brought us back,” he said with a soft smile.

Yunho returned it with a smug grin of his own. “Don’t worry. This was mostly his idea.” He pointed his phaser where the forcefield meet the floor. "Now stand back. Once this thing falls, I'll—"

Yunho choked on the last part of his sentence as a pale hand grabbed him by the throat and slammed him into the bulkhead. Stars exploded in his vision and he could feel something warm beginning to seep through his hair. He looked up, his vision spinning, to see a drone, fully armed and ready to assimilate. Knocking the phaser from Yunho's hands, the drone twisted his arm back roughly and kicked his legs out from underneath him.

"No!" Jaejoong shouted from where he was still trapped. "Leave him alone!"

Yunho tried to fight as the drone ripped away pieces of the protective flak jacket he was wearing and exposed the vulnerable length of his neck.

It happened quickly. In the darkness, Jaejoong could only barely make out the blur of the drone's arm as it was pressed to Yunho's neck. He could, however, hear Yunho's pained gasp as the tubules entered his neck. The drone stood over him, a hulking shadow, until Yunho slowly slumped to the floor of the deck. Once his job was complete, the drone ripped his arm free, then dutifully lumbered in the darkness.

Jaejoong punched at the forcefield holding him back. "Yunho!" he shouted, kicking and banging against the energy field. Small shocks surged up his arm with every hit, and soon his hands were red and raw from the irritation.

Yunho sat, slumped over only a few feet away. Even through the poor light, Jaejoong could see the black lines that began to crisscross over his face that would soon give way to the black circuits that would erupt from his skin. From what he could see, the puncture wounds on Yunho's neck were clean and smooth. There was no blood; the wounds had clotted already thanks to the nanoprobes now coursing through Yunho’s bloodstream. When Yunho looked up to meet his eyes, the skin on his face had already begun to take a deathly pallor.

New drone assimilated.

“Jaejoong,” he said, a tinge of fear in his voice. He winced and pressed his hands to his ears. His eyes were beginning to glaze as he struggled to remain lucid. “Fuck ... I ... I can hear them!”

Species: 5618, Human. New designation: Three of Eight, Secondary Adjunct of Bimatrix 184.

“Ignore them,” Jaejoong ordered.

Yunho curled into a ball, hands still covering his ears. So loud. It was so loud that it seemed to shake the very core of him. It was too much. How did anyone survive two minutes of this noise, much less two decades? He felt the pounding echo of each of the millions of voices. They were going to blast his mind apart.

“Can’t. Too loud.”

“Yunho, please,” Jaejoong begged, desperate to be heard over the Collective. “I’m here. Listen to me. Only to me."

He banged again at the energy field that prevented him from aiding Yunho. He had to escape this thing. He had to get his captain back to his ship. The chances of saving him were growing ever so slim, but he had to try. He spotted the phaser lying only a foot away from Yunho's hand.

"Yunho!" he shouted again. "Shoot at the forcefield. You have to destroy this thing so I can help you."

Three of Eight. You will head to deck 012 and assist with the assimilation of the USS Valiant.

The voices. Millions upon millions of thoughts that weren't even his were invading his consciousness. Yunho could feel himself getting lost in the heavy presence of the Collective. He shook his head. Trying desperately to clear his mind. He couldn't give in. Not yet. Just a few more seconds and relief would come.

"Yunho!"

His name. Jaejoong's voice. He clung to those sounds.

"Jaejoong," he grit out. "Keep talking. Please."

"Get the phaser, Yunho. Shoot out this forcefield and I can help you!"

That's right. He had arrived armed to the teeth, but that hadn't mattered. Nothing mattered against the Borg. He felt around the deck, searching blindly for his weapon.

Three of Eight, comply.

He froze, momentarily stilled by the command of the Collective.

“You've almost got it, Yunho," Jaejoong urged. "Pick it up and just shoot straight. Then I can help you."

Yunho shook his head as he felt himself stand. “Don’t think I can fight them off,” he murmured. Or so he thought he did. It was getting harder to keep up with his own thoughts.

“You can!" Jaejoong cried back. "You’re an individual. Remember, you have to remember. You’re Jung Yunho. You’re 27 years old. You’re your parents’ only son. You love the ocean." Jaejoong's voice broke. "… You love me!”

“Jaejoong …”

“No, no, no! You’re strong. Resist it. Please!”

Three of Eight, respond.

For some reason, that prompted a chuckle out of Yunho. “Resistance is futile.”

“No, it’s not. You told me so.”

Three of Eight.

Yunho’s head fell forward as he fought against the tide of voices that threatened to overtake him.

“You’re strong. You're an individual.”

“We … I’man individual.”

Comply.

“Yes,” Jaejoong nearly laughed in relief. "I." He’d never understood the importance of that single word until that moment.

“Jaejoong? Do you still trust me?”

“What?”

“Do you trust me?”

“Yes, of course.” No hesitation this time.

"Protect your head."

The non-sequitur almost didn't compute in Jaejoong's mind. "What?"

Yunho didn't get a chance to repeat his order before a series of explosions could be heard throughout the cube. Instinctively, Jaejoong fell to the floor of the deck and covered his head. The forcefield held up for a few minutes, but then he could feel a rush of hot air. Moments later, sparks and ash burned the unprotected skin of his hands.

Realizing he was free, he shoot up and ran to Yunho's side. It was a miracle he hadn't been hit by any debris.

"Yunho, Yunho, Yunho," he breathed. He pressed their foreheads together as he scanned the other's face. He had grown paler and the thin filaments of future implants were growing more prominent. He opened his eyes.

"There you are," he whispered, still smiling despite the obvious pain he was in. "I missed you."

"You are an idiot," Jaejoong murmured. He ran his hand along the skin of his neck. The wound was ugly and felt ten times bigger than it actually was. "All you Humans are foolish and reckless. I've told you this before: Run awayfrom the Borg."

"Yeah, but they took something of mine. I had to get it back."

"I am not worth this."

“Kiss me, please,” Yunho begged suddenly, eyes shining bright on his now pale face. “This is gonna hurt.”

“What are —”

Eyes still wide open, he was pulled into a desperate kiss.

Within a few seconds, the deck underneath them shifted and rolled as the massive cube seemed to catch fire around them. Sparks dotted the dark interior of the cube as the ship's systems fried and overloaded. Fires broke out and quickly spread along the wiring that covered the walls.

Still in Jaejoong's arms, Yunho writhed into the kiss, pain causing him to arch his back and struggle.

As Yunho continued to kiss him, Jaejoong could feel the cube shaking and smell burning circuits. The sound of bodies falling to the floor startled them both enough that he was able to pull away. Nearby, the body of seizing and flailing drones slammed to the deck.

“What’s going on?” Jaejoong shouted over the chaos.

“I think the Borg caught something,” Yunho replied with a wheezing laughing that ended in a hiss of pain. When Jaejoong looked back at him, he was grimacing. "They should be careful about what they assimilate."

Grasping him by the arms, Jaejoong forced the other man to sit up. “What did you do?” he asked.

"Unplugged them. Resistance is futile. They’ve been telling us how to hurt them this whole time." Yunho laughed again, a bit crazed and pained. Can't beat the Borg until you become the Borg.”

+     +     +

Things on the Valiant were not going much better. 

Yoochun grabbed the arms of his command chair as the small ship slammed to a dead stop, caught in the tractor beam of the cube. The bridge's sirens droned, their high-pitched wails providing an unnecessary warning of the danger the ship was in.

“Careful with the engines, Lt. Kwon," Yoochun shouted over the noise. "We don't want to burn them up.”

“Understood, sir, but I'm not sure we'll be able to pull away even at full power.”

“Commander,” Jinki called out. The red alarm lights from his ops station cast his whole face in a bright and bloody-looking glow. “They’re preparing to fire at us.” A few seconds later, the deck shook violently at the impact of the phaser fire. “Shields are at 56 percent and we’re losing engine power. If we keep this up, we’ll be dead in the water.”

Yoochun opened the comm to Changmin. “Min!"

"Sir?" the other officer responded, breath coming fast.

“We’re running out of time up here. How is the shuttle launch going?”

“I have yet to make it to the shuttle bay, Commander. We’ve been boarded.” The sound of phaser fire echoed over the comm. “Two drones have beamed into engineering.”

“Do what you can to keep them contained."

"Sir, if the shuttle's not in position before another cube arrives, our plan will be of no use.

"Got it." Yoochun searched the bridge for an officer to spare before making his mind. He shot up from the command chair and snatched a phaser rifle from a nearby security officer.

"Yuri! I'm heading to the shuttle bay. You have the bridge. If you don't hear from either me, the captain, or Lt. Cmdr. Changmin in 15 minutes, evacuate the ship."

"Sir?"

"You heard me, lieutenant. If it's necessary, make the call and abandon ship. We're barely a centimeter away from being in over our heads."

Yuri looked away from the view screen where the battle was being projected to give Yoochun a reassuring nod.

"Yes, sir," she replied. "Good luck."

+     +     +

“Yunho!" Jaejoong leaned down to pull Yunho up to his feet, slinging one of his arms across his shoulders. "We have to get back to theValiant.”

Yunho leaned against him, breathing heavily. “Call 'em,” Yunho whispered. "Tell 'em ... need help." He tapped weakly at his comm badge. “Yunho to Valiant.”

“Captain, we’re not quite ready for you," Yoochun’s voice piped out, strained and weary over the comm.

“Commander!” Jaejoong shouted, tapping again at Yunho’s badge. “You have to get us out of here. The captain needs help.”

“I'm actually somewhat relieved to hear your voice again, Borgy, but you and the captain are going to have to wait.”

“Yunho has done something — I don’t know what. They consider us a threat. They could to try to kill us.”

“Stay in the area Yunho beamed to and find somewhere to hide. I can't risk pulling you out until they're down for good."

"Don' wanna stay here," Yunho mumbled. "Have to get off."

"Not an option!" Yoochun repeated. "Stay where you are. Park out."

"What is your crew doing, Yunho?" Jaejoong wondered softly.

The captain didn't answer, he just slumped more heavily against Jaejoong. The orders made no sense. They needed to get off the cube, not hunker down on it. The next best plan would be to find a safer place on the cube to wait.

"We need to get to the maturation bay," he told Yunho, straightening as he pulled the other man closer to him. He pressed a kiss to his temple. "It's deeper in the cube, but it's better protected. I'll need you to help me."

Jaejoong was surprised when Yunho nodded in answer. "Baby Borgs?"

"They won't hurt us."

"I'll try," he whispered before lolling forward in Jaejoong's arms.

The journey to the bay was slow and frustrating, with Yunho half-stumbling, half-dragged down the narrow catwalk. Drones lay slumped against the bulkhead or convulsing on the deck, ignoring them as the Collective tried to regain control of its hive. A lone drone, flailing with an instinctive fear brought about by its disconnection from the Collective grabbed at their ankles, tripping Jaejoong. Unable to regain his balance, he fell to the ground with a painful thud, Yunho landing on top of him.

The drone clambered above him and roughly shoved Yunho away. Jaejoong was forced onto his back as the drone straddled him across his chest. Arms pinned to his sides, Jaejoong squirmed and tried to buck the heavy body off him.

A bright burst of pain exploded at the back of his head as the drone's fist slammed into his face. Jaejoong could tell his nose was broken by the painful sounding crunch. He could taste the his blood — hot and metallic — as it oozed from his now split lip. He groaned and tried to curl into himself in an instinctive move to protect his head, but all that did was bring him closer to the face of the drone.

Another punch to the face left him lying flat on his back. Disorientated and sore, he was barely aware of the fingers groping at his face until he began to feel the searing pain of the one of his implants being pulled from his skin. He screamed and thrashed as more warm blood dripped down his brow and into his eyes. He writhed, shouting orders for the drone to stand down when a phaser shot blasted through the Borg’s head, burnt flesh and metal spraying everywhere. Stilling instantly, he slumped over Jaejoong.

Pulling himself out from underneath the body, Jaejoong pressed at his bloody implant and looked up to see Yunho aiming a phaser with an unsteady hand. He appeared dazed and feverish, but his eyes were clear in a brief moment of lucidity.

“I really hope I shot the right one,” he said.

Jaejoong leapt to his feet and bent low to help Yunho stand. “You aimed correctly,” he answered, draping Yunho’s arm back around his shoulders. “I'm here,” he said pressing a kiss to the other’s cool skin. “If you see anyone else coming, shoot.”

“That was my plan.”

+     +     +

They were running out of time.

Changmin fired at the drones, who dropped to the deck. They flailed as their organic and computer systems shut down, then were quickly beamed away. The Valiant crew couldn't abandon this ground, however. Changmin knew more would come.

He nodded at the group of armed crew members positioned throughout engineering with him. “Fire as you see fit, but do so wisely. If they adapt to our fire, our weapons will be useless.”

Three more drones beamed aboard. Moving with a speed that belied its bulky frames, one of them grabbed a nearby crewman and threw him headfirst into the wall. Crewman Lee slammed the butt of his rifle into the back of the drone’s head and he crumpled to the floor.

“That was for Hyukjae,” he growled out before spitting on the drone’s prone body. “Bastards.”

“Stay focused, crewman,” Changmin said. “Watch each other’s backs.”

The wide double-bay engineering doors whooshed open and Junsu came running in. He froze at the sight of the two armed drones before hurrying over to the crumpled body of the downed crewman. He crouched over him to take his pulse. He let out a sigh of relief and turned to Changmin.

“Commander, we’ve had numerous injuries, including two assimilation attempts. But so far there have been no successful assimilations.” He sat the unconscious crewman against the bulkhead. “I think the vaccine may actually be working.”

“It’s too early to celebrate, doctor. The Borg can still adapt to our defenses.” Changmin grabbed one of the drones by the neck and slammed his knee into its face. Stunned, the Borg collapsed to the floor. Changmin pulled the final drone off from on top of a young ensign and dispatched of it quickly with a violent twist of its neck. Shouldering his rifle, he scanned the area for more enemies.

“Have you checked on the bridge, doctor?” he asked, when he was finally satisfied. "I am confident this is not the only place the Borg have tried to access."

Junsu, who had rushed over to treat the frightened and hyperventilating ensign, shook his head as he worked. "I haven't made my way up there yet, but I've been checking the internal scanners. No unknown life signs."

Changmin tapped at his badge. "Changmin to the bridge. Commander, I believe it unwise for me to leave engineering. Can you send another officer to the shuttle bay?"

"Sorry, sir," Yuri offered instead. Changmin's brow furrowed at the sound of her voice. "We're pretty shorthanded up here."

"Lieutenant, where is the commander?"

"He's left for the shuttle bay."

Junsu's head shot up upon hearing that, eyes wide with fear. "Did he go alone?" he asked, able to stop himself from interrupting the conversation.

"Yes," Yuri answered. "As I said, we're short on officers up here. We couldn't afford to send a guard with him."

Not even waiting for Yuri to finish, Junsu jumped to his feet and began racing back towards the wide doors of engineering.

"Doctor, stop!" Changmin ordered. "It's too dangerous for you to be running around the ship by yourself."

Junsu whipped around to glare at the Vulcan. "Yoochun's by himself!"

"The commander is usually reckless; that does not mean we must be, as well."

With a scowl, Junsu rushed for Changmin. "You don't really need this, right?" Snatching the phaser rifle from Changmin's hands, Junsu sprinted for the double doors. Before sprinting down the long corridor, he paused in the doorway.

"I'm not letting him do this alone," he bit out, grip tightening around the rifle. "The captain's not the only one with regrets."

And with that, he fled.

+     +     +

They were only a few meters from the maturation bay doors before Yunho began to convulse and fell from Jaejoong's arms. He pressed his hands over his ears and grimaced.

"Yunho!" Jaejoong knelt down next to him. He tried to pull Yunho's hands away from his head. "What's wrong?"

“They’re back,” he said.

“Who!?”

“The voices.” Yunho winced. “I can hear them again. Not as strong, but ... ” He froze and tried to curl into a ball. "It's wearing off. Dammit! It's wearing off!" Yunho cursed.

A blast of phaser fire exploded through the ship. Huddling in a corner of the catwalk, Jaejoong pulled Yunho close. His skin was cold and clammy, but he sweated as if he had a roaring fever. It was the reaction of a body trying to fight off a foreign invader and failing horribly.

Jaejoong ran his fingers through Yunho's sweaty locks, hoping to calm the other man down.

"I am sorry, captain," he whispered. "We failed." He blinked back the burning in his eyes. "Again."

Yunho opened his eyes to stare at Jaejoong. "We? Again?" he asked, voice hoarse.

Jaejoong attempted to smile, but it crumpled as he brushed away the sheen of sweat on the other's forehead. "On the holodeck."

Yunho just stared back at him in confusion, before shaking his head. " Ifailed. You told me I couldn't beat the Borg." Yunho gave a weak laugh before coughing painfully. "Changmin told me I couldn't beat the Borg. But you ..." Yunho shifted in Jaejoong's arms, forcing himself to sit up on his own. "You can. You have."

"What are you saying?"

"We're not done," Yunho said. He struggled to rise to his feet. Jaejoong slung an arm around his waist to hold him steady. "I told you. We have help this time. I took out the Collective and now, my crew is going to blow up this fucking cube."

+     +     + 

In the shuttle bay of the Valiant, Yoochun was working to seal up one of the ship's shuttles before it'd make its final flight.

He was so engrossed in his task that he didn't notice the drone materialize behind him until it grabbed him by the neck and slammed him against the body of the shuttle. Raising its arm, the drone revealed its assimilation tubules and aimed them dangerously close to Yoochun's neck.

Kicking his legs out in a panic, Yoochun was able to shove the drone away, but not before taking a sharp blade to the shoulder. He grunted in pain as he fell to the ground. He could feel the warm, sticky blood as it poured out of the large wound and down his back. His uniform clung to him, slick with a mixture of blood and sweat.

Pressing at the gash, Yoochun struggled to crawl toward his rifle, which he'd carelessly left lying on a pile of tools. He was only allowed to go a few feet before the drone's heavily armored foot kicked him brutally in the ribs. His limbs gave out and he fell inelegantly on his face. He rolled over to stare at his attacker.

"You fucker," he coughed. His ribs protested with each breath he took. He shuffled backward on his elbows, trying to keep a safe distance between himself and the lumbering Borg.

"Commander!"

Yoochun started at the sound of the doctor's voice.

"Junsu!" he tried to shout, but his aching ribs prevented him from raising his voice above a pained hissed whisper. "Get out!"

A phaser blast shot from behind him and bounced harmlessly off the drone's shielding.

"They've adapted! You have to leave."

Grabbing a nearby maintenance torch, Junsu turned the flame as high as it would go. Without wasting time to reconsider, he ran forward and slammed the large white flame into the face of the drone. The wounded Borg flailed, gashing Junsu in his side before falling to the ground.

Pressing a hand to his bleeding side, Junsu rushed to Yoochun's side. "Commander, are you alright?"

"Junsu!" Yoochun wheezed angrily. "What are you doing here?"

"Helping you! You can't do this by yourself!"

"You're supposed to be attending to the crew."

Junsu frowned as he pressed gently at Yoochun's shoulder. "I am."

Yoochun gritted his teeth before pulling away. Placing a hand over his side he limped over to the shuttle. "This thing has to launch now!" Painfully making his way to the pilot seat, Yoochun sat down and punched in the coordinates for the autopilot.

"Are you sending this to pick up the captain and Jaejoong?" Junsu asked. He had a sinking feeling in his stomach as to what the answer would be. The shuttle was loaded up practically from bow to stern with explosives.

"No," Yoochun said curtly. "We're sending this directly to the Borg. Nearly 500 kilotons of explosives right in their fucking face."

"What!?" Junsu nearly screeched. "What about the captain? What about Jaejoong? They'll be killed!"

"If they stay where I told them to, we'll be able to beam them off before the integrity of the cube is lost."

"Are you insane?"

Yoochun winced as he slid back out of the shuttle. "Jaejoong survived it once before, he can do it again."

"Barely! And what about the captain?"

"Borgy will look after him. I have no doubts about that."

"Why wasn't I told this part of the plan?"

"Junsu, we —"

"Commander," Changmin interrupted over the comm.

"Yes, Changmin, go ahead."

"Reports are coming in. It would appear that all of the Borg on-board the ship have lost contact with the Collective. They are no longer attacking in any organized pattern."

"I'm not about to question this turn in our fortune, Min. Dispose of the drones however you see fit."

"The virus!" Junsu exclaimed.

Yoochun frowned. "What virus, Doctor?"

Junsu flushed as he remembered his orders not to tell the captain's secret. Suddenly, he was thrown to the deck as the ship bobbed violently from another hit of weapon fire. To hell with the captain's orders.

"There has been research ... nothing conclusive, mind you... into the development of a viral agent that would break down the Collective's ability to communicate."

"You're just now telling us about this, Doc?"

"It only works if the carrier is ... assimilated."

"You think the captain has been assimilated?"

Before Junsu could answer, Yoochun jumped up and ran to the nearest computer station. "Computer, prepare shuttle for immediate launch. Follow pre-coded flight path."

The computer chirped its compliance. Shuttle preparing to launch in 15 seconds. Caution: shuttle bay doors will open in five seconds. Four. Three ...

Grabbing Junsu's arm, Yoochun pulled him out of the small shuttle bay and into the empty corridor. They watched on the display screen as the vessel launched from the bay. Junsu's eyes grew big. "Will they have any warning?"

Yoochun shook his head. "I have no idea," Yoochun growled out as he leaned against the wall and slid to the ground. "That selfish, self-sacrificing, short-sighted bastard. If the Federation doesn't take his commission from him, I'm ripping those pips off his collar myself."

+     +     +

"You are upset," Yunho whispered. "Please, don't be."

"You're turning into Borg in front of my eyes," Jaejoong bit out. "Once again you have acted without concern for your own well-being."

"You're vital to my well-being. If you thought ... after all I'd been through that I was going to be able to be without you ... you were incorrect."

"You are injured."

"The doctor will fix me."

"You will be scarred," Jaejoong whispered. His heartbreak was evident in his voice. " Marked. People will hate you like they hate me. Hate us."

Yunho grinned and raised a finger to trace the thin wires covering the implant above Jaejoong’s eye.

“Believe me when I say, you are extremely hard to hate, Jaejoong.”

Jaejoong grabbed the shaking hand and pressed it to his lips. “You said you love me,” he murmured.

“Sure did.”

“I love you, too … I think.” He squeezed Yunho’s hand. “I won’t let the Borg take you from me.”

Somewhere in the cube something exploded. “Explode” was hardly a strong enough word to describe the shockwave of destruction that soon engulfed them. It was as if the air in front of them had ignited. A white, blinding inferno that seemed to travel throughout the dark ship, and then a deafening blast. Wrapping himself around Yunho, Jaejoong tried to protect him from the oncoming devastation.

+     +     +

Twenty seconds after the blast, the massive cube lost hull integrity. The shockwave of the exploding shuttle blasted through the vessel’s exterior structure, shattering the cube.

Thirty seconds later, Jaejoong could feel the pressure of the vacuum of space pulling the air right from his lungs. He tried to hold his breath. He even pressed his lips against Yunho’s to try and keep as much air between them as possible.

Forty-five seconds later, the feeling of ice pricked his skin. The air — or rather the space — around him was cold and he couldn’t breathe. The deck underneath him crumbled and he held Yunho close as they began to fall. It wasn't a fast descent; the lack of atmosphere and gravity made it more a dream-like drift.

Fifty seconds later, Jaejoong felt nothing.

 +     +     + 

Yunho woke to the sound of incessant ringing in his ears and a massive headache. The ringing didn't sound as if it were trying to command him to do anything, so he decided it was an improvement over his previous situation.

He opened his eyes to find himself lying in sickbay, strapped to one of the ship's biobeds with Jaejoong clutching his hand.

He felt … not entirely like himself. His head was still too fuzzy and he was finding it extremely hard to concentrate on anything except the feeling of warm skin against his.

He didn’t mind that.

The skin on his arm looki repaired with a dermal regenerator — tender, pink and new. That was odd. He didn't remember being in surgery. He raised his hand to his face and felt the skin of his cheeks. He winced. His face had been operated on, too, it seemed.

"Yunho," Jaejoong murmured softly. He was obviously still drowsy. He was unable to keep his eyes open and he pulled Yunho's arm closer. It was adorable, Yunho decided.

"It's me," he rasped. His throat felt rough and dry. "It's just me."

"Don't go anywhere," Jaejoong ordered, head still resting on Yunho's mattress. He squeezed Yunho's fingers.

Yunho scoffed affectionately, then winced. It seemed his face was not yet completely healed. " Youleft the ship, not me."

"I'm not going anywhere," Jaejoong breathed sleepily.

"Promise?" Yunho heard himself ask. It was a bit shaky and unsure and so not captain-like. He was grateful for the private room Junsu had given him.

"Always."