Author's Note: This story was written for the 2011 Sci-Fi & Fantasy Big Bang and places the characters of The Inspector Lynley Mysteries in the world of Star Trek at the start of the Dominion War. Knowledge of either canon is not required - this fic should be able to be enjoyed without in-depth knowledge of the Trek universe. Special thanks to endgegner07, hezio2, and ilovewales for their cheerleading, and E. Edwin for her excellent beta job. All mistakes are mine, not hers. Please enjoy!

Complete Summary:

In 2371, Commander Barbara Havers is assigned as First Officer to the USS Providence under the command of Captain Thomas Lynley. She is from London's still-poor East End, with a chip on her shoulder, a hair-trigger temper and a sarcastic streak to match. He was schooled at Eton and Oxford and born to one of Starfleet's most legendary families, and his sense of well-meaning superiority is long-standing and unshakable.

The assignment should have been a disaster.

But against the backdrop of the rising Dominion threat, the disappearance of one of Starfleet's own, and the bloodiest war the Federation had ever faced, the Captain and the Commander will discover a bond more powerful than they had ever expected - a bond that blossoms into the love of a lifetime. As they fight for the very survival of the Alpha Quadrant, that bond will be tested to its limit. In the heat of battle, at the edge of survival, they will forge a romance that crosses all boundaries of class, family background, and first impressions - and learn that, while some partnerships are written in the stars, in the end, the only force more powerful than destiny is love.

"Please, Admiral, tell me you're joking."

Admiral Alynna Nechayev could do nothing but take a deep breath and dig her thumbs into her temples in an attempt to stave off the oncoming headache. It couldn't be far now, not with Commander Barbara Havers glaring holes into the wall.

"I am not joking, Commander. I do not joke about assignments. The Providence lost her first officer two weeks ago on an away mission gone wrong. Lieutenant Commander Nkata has been filling the gap admirably, but he's not ready to be an XO, and he knows it. Captain Lynley needs someone willing to challenge him, and no one fits that description better than you."

Defeated, Havers sank into the chair opposite Nechayev's desk. "Alynna. I can't stand the man. He's so smug, so superior. I'll be busted for insubordination within a week."

"He's also complacent and a little too convinced of his own brilliance. Barbara, I've known you since you were a scrappy fresher at the Academy. And to tell the truth, I don't know if you can handle this; I only know that if you can't, no one else can."

Havers snorted out a laugh at that. Nechayev's brutal honesty had always suited her; perhaps that was how the then-Captain had found herself mentoring a smart-mouthed East Ender who had clawed her way up from nothing to earn a full ride to the Academy. "Well, when you put it that way... I suppose I don't have any choice."

Well, that was one headache averted, at least. "You leave for Deep Space Nine tomorrow, where you'll rendezvous with the Providence. Do try not to start an interstellar incident while you're there, won't you?"

For the first time all afternoon, Havers smiled. "I make no promises. And Admiral – if I am busted, please do your best to prevent me from getting stuck on a cargo transport. Again."

For a brief moment, a ghost of a smile touched Alynna's mouth. "I make no promises."

The journey to Deep Space Nine took two weeks.

Barbara spent most of those two weeks writing a long list of letters to Admiral Nechayev in which she expressed her sincere regret that she no longer thought space was for her, and couldn't they find someone else for the position?

She sent none of them.

When she wasn't doing that, she was losing herself in trashy romance novels or formulaic thrillers of the type sold in spacedock ship-side bookstores everywhere – the kind published on cheap plastic PADDs designed to be thrown away within a month. Her sarcastic side mocked the novels endlessly; the part of her that delighted in cheesy, overblown marriage proposals or near-constant explosions enjoyed them with a relative lack of self-consciousness.

When her tiny transport docked at last, she picked up her bag in one hand, her cat's carrier in the other, and headed for the section of the station reserved for Starfleet personnel travelling between assignments. Settling cat and baggage comfortably – or as comfortably as her pudgy grey feline would allow – she went in search of refreshment.

And by 'refreshment', she meant 'alcohol'.

Ten minutes later found her at the entrance to Quark's, and although she immediately detested the odious Ferengi, the drinks looked surprisingly good and the food looked even better.

"Stardrifter, double strong," she said, and settled on a stool to wait.

"Make that two," said a husky voice behind her. Barbara turned around to see a woman with close-cropped hair as red as her uniform, the characteristic nose ridges of a Bajoran, and a pair of warm, velvet brown eyes regarding her kindly. "I like your taste in drinks. Major Kira Nerys of the Bajoran militia, first officer on Deep Space Nine, at your service."

Despite her gloom, Barbara couldn't help but smile. "Commander Barbara Havers, Starfleet, about to become first officer of the USS Providence, at yours. I like your taste in footwear."

"They are rather lovely, aren't they?" remarked Major Kira, admiring the chunky black boots as she settled herself on the nearest stool. "And not for looks – they're comfortable. And make excellent weapons."

"I can appreciate that," said Barbara with a grin, and Kira chuckled.

"So, Commander Havers, what brings you to Deep Space Nine?"

"Please. I'm so sick of formalities I could scream. It's Barbara. And I'm waiting on the Providence to dock. I only got in about half an hour ago. Admiral Nechayev assigned me to the most condescending, superior captain in – I'm sorry."

"Don't be. I'm not Starfleet, I have no reason to spill your secrets. And that's Kira, to you. I'd make it my given name, but –"

" –Bajorans are much more private about that sort of thing than Terrans, got it."

"Exactly." Those brown eyes lit with relief. "So, you were saying..."

"Yeah. I'm supposed to work with a man who was raised thinking that everyone who didn't grow up calling all of Starfleet Command 'auntie' or 'uncle' was hardly worth calling an officer. Since you couldn't find any of my family going ten generations back who'd so much as dare to peek inside a starship, I'm already in a bad place. I don't want to imagine how bad it's going to be once he learns the word 'tact' is completely foreign to me."

"You are not alone." Kira grinned, and the smile made her look ten years younger. "If it can't be said directly, it shouldn't be said at all."

"My sentiments exactly. I'm afraid he won't share them, though – in a family like that, you learn diplomacy at the same time you learn to talk. I did make Admiral Nechayev promise to make sure I don't get stuck on a cargo transport again, but I wouldn't be surprised if I was busted to laundry five days in."

"A cargo transport? Prophets, Barbara, what did you do to get stuck on one of those?"

For the first time in months, Barbara giggled. "Well..."

By the time they finished their drinks, Kira was laughing uproariously and Barbara had to hold her stomach for fear of quite literally busting a gut.

"On top of the fountain?"

"Stark naked and bellowing 'Banned From Argo' at the top of his lungs, that's right."

"Oh my." Kira wiped the tears from her eyes. "That's a Trill for you. Most of them are brilliant, but when they party, they party hard."

Barbara grinned. "He never lived it down. Every so often when he walked by, someone would start humming 'Banned From Argo', and he'd turn beet red and hide in the loo. He graduated at the top of his class, and just as he was winding up his speech –"

" –you all started singing 'Banned From Argo'?"

"Got it in one. My last year on campus they banned the song outright, the professors were so sick of it."

"If I didn't know Jadzia Dax, I'd be surprised any Starfleet officer could have a sense of humour."

"Oh, Kira, if you only knew – oh, God, is that the time? My cat is going to kill me for missing her dinner."

"And I am due on shift in half an hour. Listen, I don't know if I'll catch you again before you go, but – let me know how it goes, all right?"

"Yeah." Barbara smiled softly. "Yeah, I definitely will."

When she beamed aboard the Providence the next morning, she was still smiling.

That lasted all of twenty seconds. Then he walked in the room.

Thomas Lynley's eyebrow crawled into his hairline.

That had been happening rather a lot; the dossier on his new First Officer was a hodgepodge of contradictions. Top of her class, at least three formal reprimands for speaking out of turn or contradicting orders, an excellent Kobayashi Maru performance, secondary emphasis on flight control and piloting, spent six months working on a cargo transport as a scolding for – Oh, my. His eyebrow climbed even higher, if that was possible. So I'm getting a brilliant officer, he thought to himself, assuming I don't wind up killing her first.

No sooner had he finished scanning the file than his comm chimed, and Engineering reported ready to beam his new exec aboard. He gave the order, then made his way to the transporter dock.

The familiar shower of sparkles lit the air, then materialised into the form of Commander Barbara Havers.

His eyes met her own wide green ones, and -

He nearly fell over as a bone-deep shock of something jolted through him.

Even years later, he wouldn't call it love at first sight. But he would never, could never, deny that the moment his eyes met hers, he felt the deep, aching jolt of destiny, and a sort of fundamental recognition, if you will, of something he hadn't even known his life was missing.

He saw the same shock, the same knowing, bloom in her own eyes, and, swiftly following that, a fury directed not at him – or not entirely – but at what she had just felt. And he remembered something else he had read in her file – she was the first in her family to enter the service, and apparently had a significant problem with captains or superiors whose families had a long Starfleet tradition.

I.E., him.

He himself,he knew only too well, absolutely hated being challenged – and Barbara Havers was all challenge.

Well, damn. This is going to be trouble.

Never in her life would she forget the instant her eyes met his – the impact of it had nearly knocked her off her feet.

Barbara, said something deep inside her, you've just met your destiny. And with that, hard on its heels, came the sensation that some part of her life she had never known was empty had just been filled.

That arrogant ponce? she railed, even as she saw the same, undeniable knowing light his own eyes. That milk-fed golden boy with a stick so far up his arse you can see it when he opens his mouth? Oh, hell no!

As they stood there, spellbound, for a few seconds more, she almost swore she heard a faint, gleeful cackle of Oh, hell yes.

It seemed like hours, but really it was only moments before they were shaking off the shock of that first glance to observe the niceties. Even Barbara, as much as she disliked Lynley – or thought she did – was a thoroughgoing professional, and if her tone was a little cool as they greeted each other, it did not cross over into bad manners.


"Welcome aboard, Commander," said Lynley, his voice deep and velvety. She bristled a little at his accent – the reality of his Oxford education was plain to the ears in his aristocratic tones – but even she couldn't deny that his voice was quite lovely.

"My pleasure, Captain," she replied crisply; her own voice was a clear, slightly husky mezzo with the accent of the East End, touched with a slight Celtic lilt – Midlothian Scots, perhaps? he thought – and a surprisingly soft musicality, for all the tension he could see in her.

They both used the meeting to size each other up. Looking at her new Captain, Barbara saw a tall, rugged brunet with warm brown eyes and every hair in place, and with his uniform crisply pressed. But the calluses on his palm belied her image of him as soft, pampered aristocrat, and in spite of herself she could feel her prejudices beginning to crack. God help her, she wanted to like this man – but memories of schoolyard taunts and Academy harassment had her bristling and throwing her walls back up. No, she told herself firmly. You have no proof he's not just like them, Linty girl. No use opening yourself up to that again. But despite everything, the flint in her eyes began to soften.

For his part, Lynley found himself looking at a trim, sturdy woman of about five foot four with short, rather frazzled ginger hair and a heart-shaped, pert-nosed face, wearing serviceable Command red. As he looked yet again into the eyes that had startled him so, he saw something that eased his mind just a bit; behind the hardness in her eyes was a genuine warmth and obvious passion for her work. Whatever it was she had against him – and however annoyed he already knew he would frequently be with her – at least he knew that she would put duty over personal feelings.

He could work with that.

"One of the yeomen," he continued, "has already sent your things to your quarters. She has a cat herself, so she set your Shadow up quite nicely; we try to take care of the animals on board Providence."

Barbara blinked. Okay, so the man cared about animals. It didn't mean anything. At any rate, Shadow was a safe topic – she could go with that. "Thank you, Captain – she's been with me a long time."

He smiled slightly. "She's a lovely animal – I was there when she came aboard. In any case, we're not unused to pets, so she should be just fine. Shall I introduce you to the senior staff?"

Oh God. More people. She just barely suppressed a shudder. Cool it, Linty, warned a voice that sounded remarkably like her mother's. You're a professional. Act like it. "Of course, Captain."

The briefing room wasn't far from the transporter pad, and she entered to a group of about half a dozen men and women in all three department colours. "Captain entering!" cried a pretty blonde wearing gold, and they snapped to attention, but none of them looked frightened. That was something, at least – she'd met more than one captain in her career who terrified his crew, and that was never a good sign.

"Ladies and gentlemen," said Lynley as they came through the door, "Commander Barbara Havers, executive officer. It might be nice," he continued dryly, "if you introduce yourselves before you terrify her out of her wits."

Barbara blinked – again. Was he joking with his crew? He had to be, since the senior staff grinned and formed something resembling an orderly queue in an order that vaguely suggested seniority.

"Lieutenant Commander Winston Nkata, Ops officer, at your service," said the first in line. Winston Nkata was a dark-skinned Brit with a cheerful smile and an alarming number of dreadlocks, and his smile immediately put her at ease.

The woman behind him – the blonde who had announced Lynley's entrance – was next. "Lieutenant Commander Shannon Reed, Tactical," she said with a bright, beaming grin. "Call me Shannon. I hear you're rather a wizard at the Tac console, ma'am, I'm looking forward to having you aboard."


Lynley merely raised an eyebrow. If you think I didn't tell them something about the newest half of their command team, the look seemed to say, you are clearly far less intelligent than I had presumed.

Shaking her head, she looked around, and found herself greeting a willowy, dark-blonde woman with the most unruly batch of curls Barbara had ever seen and a smile slightly more subdued – but no less friendly – than Shannon's had been. "Lieutenant Carly Doherty, Engineering," she said, shaking Barbara's hand firmly. "It really is a pleasure to have you aboard – Shannon has been singing your praises ever since you got the assignment. And I'll never say no to another woman on the senior staff."

"Easy, Carly," remarked an incredibly handsome, dark-haired man, "you'll make Shannon jealous. Welcome aboard, Commander. Lieutenant Stephen Woodrow, ma'am, Conn officer. I'll never say no to another pretty woman on the senior staff, either!" The group around them snickered, and Lynley once again raised an eyebrow.

"Flirt with your superior officer while on duty again," remarked the captain pleasantly, "and you'll be pulling double shifts for a month. Just because you'll sleep with anything alive and sentient doesn't mean she wants to take you up on it – assuming she lacked the good sense to refrain from indulging in such activities with someone under her command." The staff snickered louder at that, and Woodrow sent them all an outrageously wounded look before stepping aside to let two women and a man in science blue step through.

"I am pleased to make your acquaintance." The soft, pleasant voice came from a tall, elegant Vulcan woman. "I am Lieutenant Commander T'Maya cha'Soral, the Chief Science Officer. I do not think we shall see as much of each other as you will of the rest of the senior staff, as much of my time is spent in the science laboratories, but I look forward to furthering our acquaintance. My bondmate, Sonak cha'Salok, is an associate doctor on this vessel; he is attending a medical conference and requests that I convey his welcome."

Barbara grinned; a Vulcan she could handle. "Live long and prosper, T'Maya. I, too, look forward to furthering our acquaintance. Please inform Dr Sonak that I look forward to making his acquaintance, as well." T'Maya's lips twitched upward – the Vulcan equivalent of a full-blown smile – and she stepped back as the last two came up.

"Welcome aboard, Commander," said the man in a rich Irish brogue. "Lieutenant Commander Stuart Lafferty, Chief Medical Officer, at your service. I sincerely hope I see you in Sickbay as little as possible." Barbara grinned again – she seemed to be doing that rather a lot.

"Not as much as I do, Commander!" she replied cheerfully.

"Well, Himself might not want to see you, but I think I'd like to see you – just not to have to do my job!" said a pretty, oval-faced woman with long, loose brown hair. "I'm Jackie Kelley, associate doctor and ship's counsellor. Lieutenant Kimura Hana, our head nurse, sends her greetings – she has a couple of crewmen down with the flu in sickbay, or she'd be here herself – you'll meet her later on, I'm sure, and T'Maya already told you about Dr Sonak. I hope you're settling in all right?"

"I don't know about me – I just got here – but I'm told my cat is settling in quite nicely!"

Jackie grinned and nodded at her. "Captain," she called reprovingly, "let the poor woman settle in for an hour. You can overwork her later."

Lynley didn't smile, but his eyes had a distinct twinkle. "As you will, Dr Kelley," he shot back, and snapped off a cheeky salute in her direction. Raising his voice, he called over the crowd. "I'll see you all at 0800 for Alpha shifts, everyone. And no, you may not come bother Commander Havers tonight. I have quite a lot we need to go over. You'll see her in the morning."

A chorus of "Yes, sir!" and "Aye, Captain!" followed them out the door.

"Your quarters are on the deck right below the bridge," he told her, "right next to mine. We have the deck to ourselves – the rest of the senior staff are on the deck directly below us, except for Dr Lafferty, Dr Kelley, Dr Sonak and T'Maya, and Nurse Kimura – their quarters are adjacent to Sickbay, of course. I know you've served on heavy cruisers in the past, but this is your first Nebula-class, correct?"

She nodded.

"It's a similar layout to most cruiser ships," he continued, "with one small difference – the officers' lounge is on a large balcony overlooking the conservatory and hydroponics bay, so we call it the Mezzanine – that's on Deck Ten, the Conservatory is on Deck Eleven. Holodecks are on that deck as well, Science labs and Sickbay are on Deck Twelve. I presume you're familiar with the general layout of Engineering and the stardrive?"

"Yes, sir," she replied, "I did some research on DS9 – it gave me the general layout, but I didn't have time to run down specifics. I assume the senior staff will take it upon themselves to show me every inch of the ship?"

He shot her a considering look. "Well spotted, Commander. They're a friendly bunch, but don't let that fool you. You're joining one of the tightest, most well-oiled crews in Starfleet. They've all been serving on this ship longer than I have, and I got here about two years ago. I think they're eager to bring you into the fold – our last exec was," he paused, "not well-regarded, and he didn't mesh with them. It looks like you will, which pleases me more than I can say."

She nodded thoughtfully. "I think I'll enjoy working with them, too," she said at last. "The crew on my last assignment were friendly enough, but..." She coughed to hide the lump in her throat – thinking of the accident that had sent her to Earth and an Academy teaching position still hurt, even if she had never been truly accepted into the crew. " looks like they think well of me," she said at last. "I hope to keep it that way."

He hadn't missed the pain in her voice. "Listen, Commander. All they ask is that you do your best for them, and that you will, I have no doubt. I believe you'll find yourself more welcome than you think."

We both know we'll have our disagreements, his eyes seemed to say, but I think you'll fit here.

"Thank you, Captain," she told him eventually. I still think he's a pompous arse, she thought as they exited the turbolift, but even if he stays that way, I could put up with a lot for a crew that accepts me. Maybe – maybe this won't be so terrible, after all.

"Here we are," he told her as the doors opened. "Your quarters are through the door on the right. Will two hours be enough time for you to settle in?"

She hadn't brought much aboard with her – two hours would be more than enough. Maybe she could lie down for an hour, at least.

"Two hours will be fine, sir," she answered.

"Very well. In that case, meet me in the ready room at 1900 hours."

"Yes, sir," she said again, and answered his nod with one of her own as he disappeared through the door to his own quarters.

Her door slid open, and she grinned in delight at the space. The living room and workstation were all Starfleet tidy, but that was fine. Her attention was on the bedroom, and the lovely, queen-sized bed in the centre.

"Hello, Shadow," she greeted her purring cat. "Welcome to the biggest perk of this job!" She flopped backward to land on the bed next to her purring cat and sprawled out deliciously. "You know," she told the cat now curled on her stomach, "I think I can live with an arrogant prick of a captain after all."

And, after setting the alarm for 1830, she promptly fell asleep.

Two hours later found her settled in the Captain's ready room, facing Captain Lynley over his desk and trying not to scream in frustration.

"Commander," said Lynley patiently, "there is a reason 'senior staff' are called just that. You and I both know war is coming. We are not going to survive this if we don't have the best of the best working together, and inexperienced personnel on the bridge are going to throw everyone off. We don't have time to handhold them."

"Then we've got to make the time, sir," she told him tightly. "What if one of the senior staff are incapacitated – or, God forbid, killed? Do you really want untrained, inexperienced personnel on that bridge in the middle of a battle? It's a recipe for disaster, and you know it!"

"I'm sure we'll manage," he told her with such a look of superiority she barely squashed the urge to punch him. "The heads of department are excellent at what they do. They wouldn't be on my senior staff if they weren't. Anyone else simply will not be up to scratch."

"We need the redundancy!" she cried, and a hot, painful memory flashed in her eyes. "We cannot afford the risks of having only one person experienced in working with that senior staff. We cannot afford the risk of putting an inexperienced officer on the bridge in battle conditions, especially when the senior staff have no idea how they work! Flexibility is the key to survivability in battle. I know. I was there, I've seen what can happen if you don't! Just because you don't trust them to do their jobs properly – "

She didn't miss the guilt that flashed in his eyes.

"That's it, isn't it?" she whispered softly. "You don't trust them."

"That's not true! I..."

"You don't," she continued relentlessly. "Well you had better start, sir, or you're going to get us all killed. Is that really what you want?"

They stared each other down for a long moment, and she could almost see the battle going on behind his eyes. Give up the security of a familiar bridge crew seven days a week in exchange for greater crew flexibility? Disrupt the stable pattern to give them all a better chance of survival? Or stick with the known and the familiar and be assured consistent success that could be snatched away at the first incapacitating injury?

"All right," he capitulated finally. "We'll try it your way, at least for now."

"Very good, sir," she said, and managed not to gloat. "I'll draw up the new shift schedules right away."

The tension crackled between them, as if they both knew that this clash would only be the first of many.

Considering that, in the hour and a half that comprised the rest of their first meeting, she wound up calling him an arrogant pompous pillock and similar at least three times and he told her she was more stubborn and irredeemably hardheaded than a Dales pony at least that many times in return, the sentiment wasn't exactly inaccurate.

And yet, somehow, they came out of that meeting with a plan they were at least content with, if not precisely happy about.

It left him feeling as though he'd been trying to hold fire without getting scorched for two hours, and the fact that she clearly had quite a brain under the attitude and prickliness left himwishing he could have washed his hands of her altogether, as he could have if she'd been just an officer with an attitude.

And though he never would have expected it, he wasn't alone.

"So? How did it go?"

Really, thought Barbara, she's taking an unholy glee in my misfortunes.

From the vidscreen, Kira's brown eyes twinkled out at her, amusement written all over her features. She looked like nothing so much as a child waiting for a particularly gruesome bedtime story.

"He's... not unbearable," Barbara said at last. "I almost wish he was. It would be easier to hate him that way."

Kira almost choked on her raktajino. "Well," she managed after an extended bout of coughing, "that's quite a change from yesterday."

"He has – honour, I guess," said Barbara, throwing her hands in the air in exasperation. "He wants to do the right thing, even if he's spectacularly bad at it sometimes. And he's obviously not just a pretty boy, or a legacy. He's got a real mind under all that perfect hair – oh, Kira, he's talented, really talented. He's spoiling all my lovely prejudices, and it's not fair! I want to hate him, and I can't. I want to walk away, and I can't, because just there, at the end, I started to think that we could be good together – maybe even great. And I'm first officer on a combat-capable heavy cruiser. I'd be an idiot to walk away from this. But God, it's going to be hard, and - stop laughing!"

Kira just waved her hands helplessly in the air and continued to cackle.

"Well, if that's how you feel about it," Barbara huffed, and reached for the vidcomm switch.

"Oh, Barbara, don't go," said Kira, now relatively contrite. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to laugh at you. And I do understand your frustration – you should have seen me when Commander Sisko first arrived! But I think you need to give yourself more credit. It sounds like you're going to manage just fine."

Mollified, Barbara gave her newfound friend a genuine smile, even if it was slightly self-pitying. "I'm glad you think so, at least," she grumbled, but it was obvious her heart wasn't in it.

"Of course you will. You do have excellent taste in drinks, after all," said Kira cheekily, and this time Barbara really did smile full out.

"That I do. Now listen, you have to hear about the rest of the senior staff. I could work with the stupidest captain in Starfleet to have a crew like this one..."

Some time later she was asleep in bed – in her very lovely, very big bed, with Shadow purring at her side – when her comm system started wailing. After her very long, very trying first day she was not in the mood to be disturbed, and barked "Havers here!" with perhaps a bit more force than strictly necessary.

It only added insult to injury when the cat leapt off the bed and stalked out the door.

She left off the visual component, but Captain Lynley's voice was sleep-weary as he informed her, "Priority One message from Starfleet Command. My ready room, five minutes."

Thoroughly annoyed, she wrestled herself into her uniform and made tracks for the bridge. Avoiding the main bridge itself, she took the curving passage behind it to Lynley's ready room and sank onto the very comfortable couch off to the side of his desk. If he's going to be late, she's damn well going to nap.

He strode through the door two minutes later, disgustingly impeccable with not a strand of hair out of place. She snapped to attention, and he waved her out of it with an absent "at ease, Commander" as he called up his terminal and Admiral Jeri Taylor's concerned face flickered into life on the screen.

"Yes, Admiral, what is it?" If Lynley noticed Havers' surprised blink at his informal tone, he gave no sign of it.

Taylor's eyes were shadowed as she relayed the news. "The USS Voyager was sent to the Badlands two months ago to track down a Maquis ship. They have not been heard from since their launch, nor has anyone in the area seen any trace of them in that time. I want the Providence to go find me some answers."

Captain Lynley's face went chalk white. "Katey's missing?" he whispered hoarsely.

Barbara shot him a sharp look. "Katey?"

Still stunned, he sat down next to her, staring into the distance. "Kathryn Janeway, Voyager's captain. We grew up knowing each other – the Janeways and the Lynleys both go way back in Starfleet. She's been the next thing to family since before I can remember."

"Snap out of it, Lynley," Taylor ordered crisply. "I know how close you are to her, but right now, she needs you."

"All due respect, Admiral, but this is really something a ship like the Enterprise should be handling. I just got my new First Officer today; we've barely had time to get acquainted, let alone settle into an effective command team."

As much as Barbara hated to admit it, Lynley was right. They were supposed to be mapping star clusters for the next two weeks. On the other hand, he'd just questioned the orders of Starfleet Command. Dear God, Alynna was right. I'm going to have my work cut out for me. The man needs some serious shaking up.

"Captain Lynley, I don't have anyone else I can spare. You're the closest ship in range. Half the fleet is patrolling the Romulan Neutral Zone, the Enterprise is investigating a deadly spatial phenomenon and the Cardassian situation is getting worse by the hour. You're not a rookie, Lynley. You have your orders: find that crew."

To his credit, Lynley knew where to draw the line. "Yes, ma'am." Eyes infinitely weary, he turned to his exec. "Commander, get Lieutenant Woodrow and Lieutenant Commander Nkata up here, and then do us both a favour and go back to bed. At cruising speed it'll be another twelve hours before we reach the target coordinates, and there's nothing any of us can do in the meantime. Yeoman Frye can surely organise the logistics as well as you can. You're off duty until we reach the Badlands." His voice was haunted, and for the first time she felt a surge of sympathy for the man. He had family on that ship.

He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Listen, Commander. You don't like me. That's perfectly clear. And from what I've been told, you've every reason to feel that way. All I ask is that you give me a chance. I have my faults, I know, but you counterbalance those quite nicely. From the little I've seen, I think we'll make a remarkably effective team." A shadow of a smile flickered across his face at the blank astonishment written on hers. "I don't like the sound of this. It's not like Katey, not at all. Whatever stopped her from communicating with Starfleet Command, it's going to be nasty. I'm going to need you out there. Can I trust you to have my back?"

Unwillingly, she felt her heart begin to soften. He doesn't wear his heart on his sleeve, but the way he reacted to the news – and the way he just admitted how much he needs her – has told her more than a week of stellar mapping. He's worried, and he wants to do the job right.

Grudgingly, she admitted to herself that maybe Thomas Lynley wasn't such a tremendous arse after all.

Well, if he can bend, then so can she. Squaring her shoulders, she snapped off a crisply perfect regulation salute and looked him straight in the eye. "Yes, sir. Yes, you most certainly can."

For the first time, she saw him truly smile, and she was struck by just how astoundingly handsome her Captain really was. Next to him, with her wrinkled uniform and untidy hair, she felt scrubby and unkempt. But he was gazing at her with a mixture of hope and admiration, and she couldn't help but return his smile with one of her own.

"Very good, Commander. Now go back to bed. I'll need you at your best come morning."

"Aye, sir."

As her head hit the pillow, all she could do was pray. Please, God, let us do this right. Let us make this work.

They reached the Badlands right on time, twelve hours later. The new shift schedule had been postponed until they figured out what they were dealing with – a move with which not even Barbara could argue – and the senior staff meeting that day was sombre and dejected, a stark contrast to the day before. T'Maya's science department went straight to work scanning the surrounding space as Shannon drew up a systematic grid-screening pattern that began at Voyager's last known coordinates and swept outward from there. Carly, meanwhile, fretted with her engines, chafing at the relative uselessness of her department.

Over the next few weeks, Barbara came to know the senior staff very well. Shannon was as bright and bubbly as she had seemed on their first meeting; quieter, steadier Carly was clearly a point of stability for the flighty, if brilliant, Tactical officer, while Shannon broke down some of Carly's reserve. The three women soon became fast friends, Barbara and Shannon talking tactics and weaponry with absolute glee while Carly looked on with amusement.

Winston Nkata proved to be as genial as he appeared, and managed to make Barbara laugh in a way she hadn't in months. Woodrow, too, was always good for a laugh, and flirted so indiscriminately it was never anything other than endearing. Though she never once looked at them in that fashion, she couldn't help but flirt back, at least a little.

Though she spent little time in Sickbay, she enjoyed Lafferty's gruff attempts at pretending not to care (he was spectacularly bad at it) and the way Kimura Hana ruled Sickbay with a velvet touch – she could tell any member of the medical team, nurses and doctors alike, to do something and make them think it had been their own idea to begin with. She was subtle, discreet, and very good at what she did, and earned Barbara's enduring respect a thousand times over because of it.

Jackie Kelley, too, was proving to be a very good friend, with her solid, no-nonsense mothering of everyone aboard ship – she was rarely ruffled by anything and accepted excuses from nobody, up to and including the captain himself.

It would have annoyed Barbara rather a lot to be managed that way if Jackie wasn't so good-natured about it all.

And through it all, always, there was Captain Lynley. Despite their still frequent arguments, which had very decidedly not lessened with the passage of time, she could feel the jagged corners between them wearing away as they settled into a command team that was both effective and very, very good, and along with that came a respect and trust that left them both startled, sometimes, at how easy it could be when they forgot their differences and slipped into a kind of seamless teamwork that showcased just how well they fit together. Despite the arguments, there was a kind of unqualified joy in the way they were, as though something that had always been just slightly out of joint had slipped into place at last.

He discovered that he was more sure and confident in his decisions when he had Barbara at his side, playing devil's advocate from every possible angle, because he knew and trusted that whatever he hadn't thought of, she had. And she discovered that, as she came to trust him more and more, her stress levels lowered considerably when she told him exactly what she thought and then left the final decision in his hands. The realisation shocked her, at first – she had never bowed to anyone, though Alynna Nechayev managed her better than most – but she eventually realised that the foundation of that trust was the fact that he respected her, and her opinions, as an equal. The decisions might be his, in the end, but he made no secret of the fact that he needed her to be exactly who she was, and that he needed her there to tell him exactly why this plan was wrong, that plan was stupid, and what on earth made him think this other thing would be a good idea?

Respect. It all came down to respect. She had never had it before, and now that she did, she found the strength to follow him, not just challenge him – although she did challenge him, often and ferociously. And the fact that he expected her to challenge him – that he wanted her to challenge him – allowed her to follow him, when she never could have truly followed anyone else.

Slowly, but ever so surely, the jagged edges between them were wearing away, and with every discussion, every argument and every decision, working together got just that much easier.

But despite all of that, a pall still hung over the entire staff. A missing ship in the middle of a war boded well for nothing, and there was a palpable urgency to their search, even as Barbara settled into both her new duties and her new life on board Providence.

And in the first real crisis, her newfound confidence would be tested to its limit.