Hope was a difficult, painful thing.

Those with easier lives might consider it a positive. Something to tide them through momentary ugliness in an otherwise perpetually sunny landscape.

Seven had never had the privilege of hope.

She was a woman who had too often been without the freedom to choose. A woman without the liberty of looking towards the future, having too many avenues violently torn away for any latent optimism.

A child with distant parents, dragged reluctantly from friends and family after creatures which haunted her nightmares. Still haunted her nightmares. A fruitless endeavour fated to end in misery, one she endured without consideration or consultation. Poor Queen Annika indeed.

At least with the borg, she'd had the luxury of being a passive observer in her own mind. The actions of her body horrifying, but the disconnect allowed her the small comfort of the status of witness as opposed to perpetrator, regardless of whatever guilt others might ascribe to her.

Voyager had been a learning curve, a steep one, one in which she wasn't provided the framework within which to exist correctly. Fumbling blindly into the idiosyncrasies of human nature. Ostracised for the slightest social errors, denied the basic courtesy afforded to others as unfamiliar as she. Expected to conform immediately based on genetics alone, regardless of how far from human she'd felt and how few formative experiences she'd possessed. Janeway had done her best, but Seven had learned not from a gentle guiding hand, but the angry rebuffs of her crewmates as she ran afoul of invisible lines she couldn't hope to see.

Hope. Hope, or lack of had brought her to the Raiders. Her first real choice had brought her to a place with no choices. People starved and frightened, abandoned by noble Starfleet, victims of opportunistic predators, huddled together in the dark. She lived by the day, never hoping, just reacting, finding comfort where she could, normally in the dregs of a bottle or the warmth of temporary company. She never stayed and they never asked. Not until Bjayzl.

Camaraderie, real camaraderie for the first time. A confident, a companion, a friend. She was naive, taken in by the novelty of finally having someone there to lean on. Hers and hers alone. No duty or appearances, just companionship. And in doing so, she lost the only person who had ever really mattered.

For years, she existed, she battled, she drank and she left.

Until one day, a tiny ship and an unorthodox crew dropped into her life and irreparably changed its course.

People who'd been damaged, who'd suffered and made mistakes and could forgive hers in return. Her own mistakes, those poor choices made when hot heads led. A crew who could take her as she was, not who she was supposed to be.

It had been a surprise that they'd survived. She hadn't hoped. Hadn't wanted to. Had expected her last moments to end at the hand of a Romulan or an Android or a nameless creature summoned from the void.

She hadn't wanted to make connections. But dark dreams mean late nights, and she hadn't been the only one with nightmares. A drink together to settle her mind, to slow its whirring from a frenetic pace to something more amenable to sleep.

They'd spent their evenings in silence at first, tentative. Raffi had been the one to start, to broach the gap, of course, as if Seven was even capable of it anymore. Awkward pats became soothing words, neither of them familiar enough to know the other's story but similar enough to empathise with the others' pain.

It filled a void that she hadn't known existed. The need to trust and open up, something she couldn't have hoped to explore before the La Sirena. Words became holding, friendship making way for attraction. Attraction based on mutual understanding, slowly developed, fiercely guarded.

They hadn't really talked about it. Seven hadn't wanted to promise and Raffi hadn't wanted to ask.

It was enough. Holding worn, soft hands and a returning a tentative smile. For the first time in a lifetime, it gave her the bravery to hope.