Harry’s speculative gaze flicked between the scattering of poker chips on the table and the cards cupped protectively in his hands. Tom’s foot tapped with playful impatience on the Flyer’s floor as he casually leaned back in his chair to dial an adjustment to the autopilot one handed while his gaze remained squarely on his vacillating best friend. For his part, Chakotay was allowing his eyes to close; sorely tempted as his head throbbed with a beat suspiciously close to the rap of Tom’s boot, to throw down his cards and retreat to the so-called beds in the back. Crawling back to Voyager at low warp was already wearing on his nerves without Harry’s indecisiveness and Tom’s infantile attempts to put him off…

Harry finally opened his mouth, tilting his cards towards himself warily. “This taffy tastes like lipstick…”

“Harry!” Tom exploded, “Can you just…” He did a double take as Harry’s remark sunk in. “Wait, what?”

Harry obligingly placed the little container he’d had secreted away beside him on the table. “Ugh, this taffy Chell made…”

Chakotay stretched his tense and tired muscles as he threw Harry a wry smirk, his brow arching in imitation of his wife’s. “I could’ve told you that Chell’s confectionary is an acquired taste, one acquired when anything is better than emergency rations…if you’d offered to share.”

Harry nudged the container across the table, sending a few chips flying in the process. “I am now!”

Chakotay eyed the container warily, then made a noise somewhere between a chuckle and a sigh. “Just make a move Harry, please.”

“No, not until these are back in play.” Tom argued as he left his seat and picked up each of the lost chips. “You won’t be getting out of your debt that easily.” Harry chuckled weakly, his gaze drifting back to the cards, but now it was Tom who was ready to get back into the gameplay. “How do you know it’s taffy?” he asked with pointed curiosity, laughing when Harry’s eyes widened and he gulped abruptly. “For that matter…how do you know what lipstick tastes like?”

Harry spluttered on the barely swallowed ‘taffy’. “I’ve kissed…You know I’ve…I mean I…Celes.”

Tom slapped him on the back as he sat back down. “I’d like to think you’d have kissed her by now! You’ve been…” He smirked, “…going steady for, what, four years now?”

Harry snorted, rolling his eyes in the pilot’s direction. “Yeah, four years three months.” Tom laughed again at his precision. “We’ve kissed plenty, thank you very much.”

Chakotay shook his head at their antics. He tossed his cards carelessly on the table. “Well, I fold, so you know when my turn comes around.”

“Someone’s grouchy.” Tom remarked, “Alright Commander, we’ll leave you out of this round.” He sat back, regarding Chakotay thoughtfully, “Actually, you’ve been like a bear with a sore paw since you got up, and it can’t all be the fault of the beds in here, since I chose those…” Chakotay’s face didn’t fully smooth out and Tom became more serious. He lifted one of the many bottles secured by the conn, filled with an appealing golden drink. “Want to drown your sorrows in some Zeburi cider?”

Chakotay’s answer was a bitter scowl. “I think I’ve had my fill of the Zeburi for now. Ask me when we get home.”

“We will get home you know.” Tom reminded him, “I’ll admit the Zeburi’s hospitality got a little cloying, but at least they were hospitable. They wanted us to stay for another week!” He grimaced a little at that himself, not only at the thought of more diplomatic functions but at the idea of another week away from B’Elanna and Miral. “Look on the bright side. If Seven hadn’t been keeping such close track of us and warned us about the ion storm, we’d be in the heart of it and stuck at impulse, not cruising along at warp three on its fringes.”

Chakotay’s face softened, “You expected her to do less?”

“No, which is exactly why I listened to her.” Tom replied as a teasing glint returned to his eyes, “Not that you would’ve allowed me to ignore her.”

“You’d hear about that from Seven without me having to say a word.” Chakotay pointed out with a fond, and wistful, smile.

Harry, reading between the lines, leaned forward in concern. “Is Seven okay?”

“She’s fine.” Chakotay assured him quickly. Which she was, just… He sighed ruefully. “Okay, it’s just that today is her birthday. I want to be back, but at this speed…”

Both Harry and Tom nodded in sudden understanding. “That sucks.” Harry conceded.

“Yeah.” Tom agreed, “I remember last year just before Miral’s birthday, when we lost power…” His friends shuddered at the memory, the anxiety of being dead in space. “Thankfully we got it back, but this year Bee and I made sure to replicate her presents as soon as we’d decided what to get.” He smiled at the thought of Miral’s past birthday, her fourth, then looked at Chakotay questioningly. “How did Seven’s birthday escape Neelix’s radar all these years? Then Chell’s?”

“She’s corralled Chell in line for your birthday a few times now…” Harry added.

“Yeah.” Chakotay confirmed, his smile at the thought tainted by a flash of guilt, even as he reasoned with himself that he knew better than that. “But Seven doesn’t like to make a big deal of hers, at all.”

Harry winced in sympathy. “I guess it’s bittersweet for her, huh?”

They didn’t know the half of it. Seven had been assimilated within days of her birthday. He could picture the half-eaten cake in the Raven’s little kitchen in his mind’s eye as the Borg boarded… Memories from his Borg links with the Cooperative and his ‘scorpion’ still caught him off guard, often striking him seemingly at random, but by now he could generally pull what he had of Seven’s memories to mind at will. “Yeah.”

“Even if you don’t do anything, you want to be there.” Tom filled in, squeezing his friend’s shoulder as Chakotay nodded fiercely. He chuckled, deciding to lighten the mood. “What do you get the girl who’s assimilated everything?”

Chakotay’s lips turned up. “Whatever she wants.”

Tom smirked, “I’ve always found that works…within reason.”

Chakotay snorted a laugh. “Right.”

“But what if you don’t quite…know what she wants?” Harry asked, “I mean, sometimes with Celes I have to think for weeks. And she’s so sweet, she’d tell me she loved something even if she really thought it was…not so great.”

“I’m 99.9% she’s genuine with you Harry.” Tom assured him, “She’s easy to read.” The young Bajoran’s face was expressive, and though negative emotions that had once plagued her were much less common now, her eyes would still widen with anxiety, and her face would flush with happiness when Harry entered a room.

“Yeah, me too.” Chakotay agreed with a smile. “I know she loved the Bajoran jewellery you replicated recently, she was beaming coming into Astrometrics…”

Harry’s cheeks turned rosy. “It seemed more…personal that way.” He mumbled, swallowing. “Actually, I…” He trailed off, chickening out. Clearing his throat and ducking his head to dodge Tom and Chakotay’s curious glances, he frowned down at his cards once more. “So, I need to make a move…”

“Yep.” Chakotay confirmed wearily.

“Look, Chakotay…” Tom chuckled, “If you’re bored we can always play charades. We should have a better grasp of it than Zeburi…”

“Yeah!” Chakotay gave a short guffaw. “I should hope so!”

“Somehow, I don’t think that’s going to go into Starfleet’s guidelines as an icebreaker suggestion…” Harry snickered, smirking at Tom.

“I wouldn’t even mention it in the report to the Captain…” Chakotay added under his breath.

Tom feigned offence. “Excuse me, but it was your fault my diplomatic methods failed, Mr. ‘I’m a Commander, not an actor’!”

“Well, it’s true!” Chakotay defended himself, laughing. “They were pushing me towards a freaking stage Tom…”

“I know. It would’ve been entertainment for the Zeburi and us alike.” He rolled his eyes in respond to Chakotay’s glare. “Come on, maybe you wouldn’t have been that bad. Are you going to tell me that you and Seven never…”

Chakotay’s eyes narrowed. “Never what?”

“Seven isn’t really the type for chara…” Harry began with an affectionate chuckle.

“Never do a little role pl…”


“What?!” Tom protested innocently, yelping playfully when Chakotay punched him on the shoulder.

“I don’t want to know about you and B’Elanna…” Chakotay exaggerated a shudder in retaliation, “And you repay me with that?!”

“That’s fair.” Tom threw his hands up in defeat, but couldn’t contain one last mischievous glint in his eye. “I’m still going to ask Seven one little question on your acting prowess. I’m sure she’d help you improve…” Chakotay threw his hand of cards at Tom’s head, his aim accurate enough that Tom closed his mouth just in time.

Harry threw a handful of chips on the table. “I raise you twenty Tom. And…” He gulped, “I’m going to ask Celes to marry me.”

Seven was perched on the foot of their bed. Her hands would start running up and down her thighs, then progress to twisting in her lap, before she’d catch herself and still them. Then her trains of competing thought would resume their full, breathless speed, often colliding, and her discipline would slip. The next time she glanced down, her palms were obsessively smoothing out non-existent wrinkles on her Ventu woven blanket.

He’d soon return… A stubborn thread of nausea knotted in her stomach and she sighed, propelling herself to her feet. Then an instant’s hesitation as an impulse struck to yank the blanket off the bed and wrap it around her shoulders, but she shook it off, picking up her uniform jacket instead. She only slung it over one arm, the clamminess of her skin making wearing it, or the blanket for that matter, unappealing. She marched to the table, for this past week forlornly set for one, and took a quick sip of what remained of her weak tea. Her nose scrunched. It had cooled, probably long before. She made herself take another sip anyway before moving to clear her half-eaten breakfast.

She’d just activated the recycler when the doorbell chimed. Soft as it was, she jumped, and had to compose herself for a split second before heading for the door, shrugging on her jacket as she walked. “Enter.” Somewhere in the back of her mind she expected, hoped for, Chakotay. Irrational though that was, since she’d programmed the Computer to notify her here when the shuttle approached. Despite that brief flicker of disappointment, the smile she gave her visitor was genuine. “Captain, good morning.”

Kathryn Janeway smiled knowingly back, “Good morning Seven, but it would be better if the away team were back already.”

“Agreed.” Seven replied without preamble, though she held in her sigh. Of course the Captain could see through her. “But their progress through the ion storm is as good as can be expected. I will continue to track them through the Astrometrics sensors.”

“Tomorrow then?” A slight shadow passed over Kathryn’s face. “If I’d known it was going to take this long…” She shook her head a smile, “But at least it’s because the three of them seem to have proved very popular with the Zeburi…”

Seven gave a quiet chuckle. “I’d prefer it if Chakotay didn’t inspire any fanaticism.”

“What, he can sing?” Kathryn joked, “You learn something new every day…”

Seven snorted. “If you have a broad definition of singing.” Her smile faltered, “I’d have preferred for the trade arrangements to be more efficient.”

“I’m sure he tried his best.” Kathryn told her, “Overzealous fans or not.” She gave her protégé a concerned look as she sighed, “I’m sorry Seven, if I had known Starfleet would request so many debriefings of you this week, I’d have assigned…”

“The debriefings have going smoothly.” Seven assured her gently, “I understand why Starfleet has to gather as much information on the Gamma Quadrant as I can provide, since their exploration is finally resuming after the collapse of the Dominion.” She held the Captain’s gaze, “They are collaborative, not interrogating.” It was difficult to truly feel interrogated when the exchanges were written or recorded, as hers with Starfleet tended to be to free up the comm. time for families. However, there had been enough incidents over the years where Starfleet had bombarded her with requests that both Chakotay and the Captain were on edge about it. Though in more than one way, as the Captain surmised, she would’ve liked Chakotay here to offload to about the stresses of it, it was also easier on him that he wasn’t here.

Kathryn suppressed a shudder. If anything good had come of Voyager’s marooning, it was that her crew had missed the carnage of the Dominion War. She sometimes wondered if that had changed Starfleet, many had previously argued that it always took years for the service to regain its peacetime mission after war. So much had happened on Voyager over the years, but the thought of the changes Earth had gone through, and would continue to experience, in their absence sometimes daunted her. “Good, because we wouldn’t have it any other way.” She said firmly, putting a hand on blonde’s arm. “Just don’t let them pile too many expectations on you, alright? You’re a member of my crew, not their Borg encyclopaedia.”

“Yes Captain.” Seven told her, “I know.”

“Be sure to send them data on what we’ve been finding here.” Kathryn instructed, “Remind them that the Delta Quadrant is where it’s really happening, not the Gamma.” She rolled her eyes with a laugh, then sobered, her smile thoughtful, as she gave the arm she held an affectionate squeeze. “Oh, and happy birthday Seven.”

“I will gladly remind them.” Seven assured her wryly before dipping her head. “And thank you.” She swallowed slightly, but allowed herself to take comfort from the Captain’s compassion, rather than jump to the defensiveness of old.

“I think I’ll have my morning coffee in the Mess Hall today, do you want to join me?” Kathryn suggested lightly.

Seven smirked at her, “Which morning coffee?”

“My third.” She answered proudly, “Which means I’m just about awake enough for company.”

“If tea is an option, then I will happily join you.”

“Of course it is.” Kathryn muttered with a long-suffering sigh. “Just my luck that I’m surrounded by officers who don’t share my appreciation for coffee…”

Seven stepped out into the hallway with her, quickly straightening her uniform to dress-standard perfection as she did so. “I’d say it was good luck. It does mean you don’t have to share…” And that there weren’t several caffeine addicts on the Bridge at once, she thought to herself with a smile.

After a pleasant half hour with the Captain in the Mess Hall, Seven watched Miral for the morning while B’Elanna and her Engineering team took advantage of Voyager awaiting its rendezvous with the Flyer to do an overhaul of the plasma coolant systems. She enjoyed her time with the precocious four year old as much as ever, though it was with relief and a conscious effort not to feel daunted that she passed responsibility back to B’Elanna when the three of them had lunch together. On reporting to Astrometrics, the day rapidly became routine. She prepared her latest batch of data for Starfleet, with the report on Voyager’s progress the Captain had requested she add, ran scans of what lay ahead and not only allowed but refined Tal Celes’ constant monitoring of the slowly approaching Flyer.

“You’ll let me know when they’re close, won’t you?” Celes checked for the third time as she hovered, reluctant to finish her shift.

Seven nodded to Crewman Zhang, who was hanging back in the doorway, and he bolted forward, obviously itching to have his time with his brother. Of course, he was early, and Celes staying wouldn’t disrupt the necessarily exact schedule for MIDAS comm. time, but she wanted to keep to the principle of as much privacy as possible. Crewman Tal was discreet of course, but everyone was trusted her to keep the line stable, and it wasn’t a responsibility she passed onto others lightly. She held back her sigh as she turned back to Celes, it wasn’t as if she didn’t understand the sentiment… “What if I programmed the Computer to inform you by comm. when their arrival is imminent?”

Celes brightened, relaxing so visibly that the weight on her shoulders may as well have been literal. “Could you?”

“Yes.” Seven confirmed. At Celes’ shy look of gratitude, she found herself admitting, “I have already put the same programming in place for myself.”

The confidence was rewarded by the warmth in Celes’ responding smile. “I’m sure they’ll have stories to tell us when they get back.”

“I’m certain of it.”

“Yeah.” Celes finally turned towards the door, then looked over her shoulder at her direct superior and unlikely friend. “Thanks, Seven. See you tomorrow?”

Seven nodded. Where else would she be? Unless the Doctor insisted on that visit to Sickbay… She directed her attention on the main console, checking the connection with MIDAS with one hand and fulfilling Celes’ request with the other. On impulse, she added B’Elanna to the programme too. “Go ahead, Crewman.”

As Zhang and his brother proceeded to greet each other in an enthusiastic stream of Mandarin, her attention gradually drifted to the scans tracking the Flyer. It struck her that it was easier to communicate over tens of thousands of lightyears right then than with the Flyer through this ion storm. Of course, she could have sent a short message with some effort, but that would only be justified in an emergency; and she had so much more to say, just as Chakotay would… They’d have to wait.

She didn’t have to wait so long for only one last slot of comm. time to remain. Irene Hansen had specially requested that she claim this one months ago. The gesture had touched and afflicted her with apprehension in equal measure at the time, and the feelings were recurring now.

Grattis på födelsedagen, Annika älskling!”

Seven first sighed in relief that her aunt was alone; part of her had been expecting some sort of gathering around the comm., like she’d often witnessed when crewmembers talked to their families. Often, they tried to have whole parties over the line. Not that she and Irene had a big family. She had had a few cordial conversations with Irene’s two sons, her cousins, but she wouldn’t expect them to put huge effort into any arrangements, and anyway, neither lived on Earth. There wasn’t really anyone else, Irene’s husband Harald having passed nine years ago… She pushed the thoughts back, and switched effortlessly to Swedish to reply, “Thank you, Aunt Irene.” Chakotay had told her she must dream in what had been Annika Hansen’s native tongue, he’d heard her mumble in bed. She could never remember, nightmares, which tended to be silent and isolating, stuck with her more. But she’d admit that endearments and exclamations, now that she allowed herself those, did tend to form on her lips as Swedish first.

“And may there be many, many more.” Irene said, smiling at her benevolently. “Chakotay is on the Bridge?”

“On an away mission.” Seven answered, “His return was delayed by an ion storm.”

Irene heard the tiny quiver in her only niece’s voice. “Better to be back late but safe.” She said softly, then with a tinge of regret, “If the two of you were here, you’d be enjoying a well-earned day off.” She chuckled, “Midsummer Day is certainly one of the nicest days to have a birthday, everyone is already celebrating! You were born just after midnight, so the family’s Midsummer Eve party was still in full swing when your father called…” She chuckled, “We all drank more than usual that night to wet your head…”

“On Tendara, I believe it was an unremarkable autumn day…” Certainly not like Sweden, where the sun would only set for two hours at this time of year.

“Yes.” Irene agreed sadly, then smiled again at another memory, “I remember, the year you were home for your birthday, you thought all the shops were closed because it was your birthday…”

Seven made a small grimace. “That was presumptuous of me.”

Irene shook her head, blue eyes, their strongest shared trait, sparkling. “No, you were very sweet dear. Very well behaved through the whole party…”

Seven strained to reach the images flittering on the edges of her mind’s eye. “By a lake…” She murmured, “A big red house…” A smile formed unconsciously on her lips as the red wooden house with the white trim became briefly vivid in her eyes.

“Your grandparents’ house.” Irene confirmed, “It’s still there, you and I share ownership now. You’ll see it one day.” She pushed her own melancholy away as Seven nodded shakily, regarding her teasingly. “Do you remember what you ate?”

The flavour suddenly exploded on her tongue at the prompting, and she beamed unselfconsciously, like the child she’d been. “A cake!” She bounced slightly on the balls of her feet, “With…an abundance of strawberries and so much cream…” Her tongue flicked over her lips, as if expecting them to still be speckled with cream.

“Yes, Gräddtårta med jordgubbar, but that wasn’t the cake I made for you, it was just the one you ate!” Irene laughed uproariously, both at the memory and Seven’s confused expression.

“What? Explain.” She demanded.

“I’d made the traditional Gräddtårta for the adults, and a birthday cake for you.” Irene explained, “But when you saw all those strawberries, well, no special birthday cake could compete!”

“That was ungrateful…” Seven began, uncomfortable.

“It was hilarious.” Irene corrected with a smile and a shrug, “We just transferred the candles and you were happy.” She watched her niece’s face and saw lingering longing, “I only wish I could make you another for today…but I can give you the recipe? That will have to be my present…”

“A wonderful present…” Seven murmured, “Thank you.” Irene immediately reached for a PADD, pulling up the recipe and holding it up for her to read and memorise. Seven had done so in seconds, they often shared recipes, but something else was nagging at her now. “Irene…what did my parents give me that year…my third?” Within three months, the Raven had departed and her parents had severed her from the rest of her family for good. “A little house?” she gazed at her aunt uncertainly.

“A dolls’ house.” Irene affirmed, watching her expectantly.

“It was white…” Seven mumbled, “…but I thought it should be red, like my grandparents’ one…” She shook her head, gulping down the growing lump in her throat. “Papa…he…he replicated a pot of red paint and started painting it for me…”

Irene blinked rapidly, hurt but understanding of the disbelief in her voice. “He did.”

Seven grimaced a little. “What a whim to indulge…”

“No.” Irene’s voice was sharp momentarily, then dropped back to pained regret. “They didn’t think of you enough, we’ve talked about that.” She sighed heavily, and looked at her with full eyes. “But they did love you.” She blinked, rising unsteadily to her feet, “Wait…” She disappeared off screen for a moment then returned with a large box. “I’ve been meaning to show you these things whenever we get to speak, but we are only able to so often…and I’m getting older, dear. But they did love you so much…you should see them.”

They may have loved me…but they cared about the Borg a great deal more, Seven thought with resigned bitterness. But she tried to keep her face impassive as Irene’s weathered hands plunged into the box. “Your parents left this and more with me when they closed up the house on Tendara and left…” She explained hastily, very aware now of their limited time. “Oh, this first!” She pulled out a baby onesie, pink and covered with red love hearts. “They must’ve brought you home from the hospital in this, here’s your ankle tag…” She held out the tiny loop into which an ID chip would be built. A pair of tiny shoes, shiny white patent, followed and were set down on the desk. “Your first shoes…” Irene began to blink rapidly, swallowing convulsively, as a locket lay in her palm and arthritic fingers slowly cracked it open. “My mother gave me one of these for each of my boys. It has locks of your hair…”

“It’s…it’s customary to keep these things?” Seven asked thickly.

“To treasure them.” Irene said softly, “Do you remember how you loved to draw?” She held up a crude but bright fingerpainting in one hand and a photograph of a blonde toddler, Annika Hansen, on her knees and covered up to her elbows in paint. “I suppose these were some of your first attempts.” She chuckled.

“It would appear so.” Seven agreed, fighting flashes of the Raven, of Mama fixing pictures to bulkheads while dictating to her log.

“Look at how many times they took your handprints…” Irene murmured, laying out several bits of clay. The prints grew in increments, but even the last were still those of a very young child. Seven glanced down at her hands now, adult sized and one lined by Borg exoskeleton, both trembling. “Here are your footprints from when you were first born.”

Seven stared at the tiny imprints. “They’re so small…” She whispered. Her hands slid off the console and clenched anxiously at her sides.

“Well, you were.” Irene told her with a gentle laugh. “A beautiful, delicate little baby. You could make yourself known when you wanted to though, believe me.”

“Yes…” Seven managed a wan smile. “Babies’ cries are not known for being…delicate. I wouldn’t be the exception.”

“No!” Irene laughed, then sobered as she followed her niece’s gaze; it lingered on the silver rattle engraved with her name, the plush elephant with the faded red bow. She could remember having to console the three-year-old over the comm. when that had been left behind, she couldn’t remember the name she’d given it now… “I’m sorry Annika. Perhaps I shouldn’t have pushed this on you…”

“You didn’t!” Seven assured her, quick and sincere. “As you said, we should take the chance while we have it.” She took a deep breath, “And what better day to think of the positive?”

“None.” Irene agreed, “You’ll make today special, won’t you? Let Chakotay spoil you whenever he gets back?”

Seven smiled at her warmly. “I will.” Her face lost some of the confidence that statement had infused. “You’ll…keep those things for me?”

Irene regarded her, blinking back tears. “Of course.”

Chakotay felt every muscle in his body relax as he entered his quarters, but it was who was there that brought out the beaming smile. “You’re up!”

Seven’s eyebrows arched with her usual amusement, since that much was obvious. “You expected otherwise?” she countered.

“Well, no…” Chakotay conceded while his eyes took in her position, curled up in the chair with her blanket drawn over her, which told him clearly enough that she had been relaxing, if not actually napping. “But it is 2am, querida.”

“0223 hours. Which is why I did not meet you in the Shuttle Bay, merely waited for your arrival here.”

“And I couldn’t get here a minute too soon, believe me.” Chakotay finally crossed the two strides to her just as Seven stood and they met in an embrace, the blanket falling to pool over their feet. “But still too late.” He murmured against her neck after a tender kiss, then pulled back, cupping her face as his warm gaze focused. “Feliz cumpleaños, mi amor.” His words held real joy even as an apologetic grimace marred his handsome face. “Belatedly…”

“That is irrelevant.” Seven broke in briskly. She allowed a soft sigh when Chakotay frowned, reading into her dismissal. “You could not help the delay in the mission, it really didn’t matter to me as long as you were safe.” Her words were weighed with the memories of all the missions that had gone awry in less than benign circumstances. She leaned into his hold as he gave her a squeeze that was just as reassuring for him. Then her lips quirked up, “Besides, didn’t you tell me that fun can’t be scheduled?”

Chakotay chuckled, “Yes, I did…” He admitted with a lopsided grin as he pictured said schedule, with ‘FUN’ flashing obligingly in its hour-long slot. Even if Seven was willing to shrug this off with a tease, he wasn’t. “But birthdays are annual, so definitely schedu…”

And the general assessment was that she was the pedant in this relationship… Her smirk widened, the glint in her eye flaring to a spark. “If you wish, I can schedule our fun. Would…next Thursday at 1900 hours be acceptable?”

“Oh, only if you can add a few daily allotments…” Chakotay answered as his eyes hooded. “I don’t know…” He lifted her off the ground, cupping her behind with a pleased hum as she squeaked out a giggle. “…maybe 0500 hours, 0600, 1900, 2000, 0100 hours…”

She snaked an arm around his neck, leaning in until their lips were a hair breadth’s from touching. “You’re confident…” She kissed him hard.

“Confident enough to not need a schedule.” Chakotay responded breathlessly as the kiss broke, but he brought his lips to the hollow of her throat almost immediately, sending goosebumps rippling over Seven in waves. “Ah, I’ll heed my own old advice. We’ve managed so far without.”

Seven’s answer was a gentle snort. “Quite well.”

“Yeah…” Chakotay half groaned, nuzzling her throat for a moment more before intent ideas returned to her face, his hand rubbing broad circles into her back. “But you had a nice day today?”

Seven was caught by his neat switch back onto a serious track, enough to still for a split second in his arms, her gaze flicking tellingly downward in the second before she nodded an affirmative for him. “I made a cake.”

“Cake?” He set her carefully back down on the floor, gaze going over her shoulder to their kitchenette. No sign.

Seven laughed under her breath. “Don’t worry, I held back a fifth of it for you when I served it to the crew.”

“Just a fifth?” Chakotay joked, his playful affront deserting him when she moved to the cupboard and pulled out the platter. Even cut up as it was, he could still see how painstakingly Seven had smoothed the thick cream over the fluffy layers, and the strawberries were abundant enough on what remained that as a whole it must’ve been covered. “Wow.”

She beamed back. Proud, even a little gleeful. “It was impressive, even if I do say so myself. Chell took pictures.”

Chakotay chuckled with her at the metal image that brought up. “Did he ask why you…”

“It’s a traditional Midsummer cake.” Seven answered quickly, “It was my good luck to be born at the time it’s usually served.”

“Irene gave you the recipe when you talked today?” She only nodded, awkwardly despite the fact that aunt and niece exchanging recipes was commonplace. “Okay.” He agreed simply, withholding the comfort he sensed she needed but he knew she wouldn’t accept just then. Damn it, he should’ve been here. He focused in on the cake with bright eyes. “Do I have to share?”

Seven pouted, but couldn’t hold it, a smile flicking in and out. “It’s my birthday cake.”

“So that would be a yes?”

She swatted him lightly with the hand not balancing the plate. “It is. Have you eaten a proper meal?”

“Tom replicated burgers on the Flyer…” He sniggered at her expression. Seven had a low opinion of Tom’s ‘fast food’ obsession, having pointed out to the pilot multiple times in the past that any replicated food was fast, but that didn’t mean it had to be purposefully greasy. Of course, when she’d taken Tom up on his challenge and made them for herself, she’d…discreetly wolfed a couple down, but he was careful not to bring that up too often. “They were a little soggy…” He admitted, “But really Seven, I just want to go to bed. Cake in bed would be a big bonus…”

She rose to his tease just as he’d known she would, making incredulous noises. “In bed?” she echoed with a snort, “Being on an away mission with Tom and Harry has given you bad habits!”

“No.” Chakotay countered, “Being on that mission deprived me of sleep! First the Zeburi with their hourly ringing of the gongs, and then on the Flyer, Harry snores like a foghorn!”

“I’m sure he could say the same about you…”

Chakotay’s mouth dropped open, “Four years together and you’ve never told me that I snore?”

“I tend to when I elbow you to quiet you.” Seven shot back wryly, then kissed him quickly. “Don’t worry. It isn’t so regular that it outweighs all the benefits of sleeping with you.”

He gave a short guffaw at that, but flashed her a sensual smile too. “I’m glad to hear it!”

“It helps that by using my portable unit I can become unaware.”

“I’m sure it does. But I didn’t have that option, so…”

Seven considered. “The beds on the Flyer are uncomfortable despite Tom’s claims…” Her eyes moved from Chakotay’s face, to her cake, to their bedroom door, and back again. “You can change the sheets in the morning.”

“…and Harry jumped so hard he toppled into the fountain. So, he had Zeburi clothing pressed on him of course while his uniform dried…”

“I presume that was a sight to see.” Seven commented wryly as she popped a strawberry in her mouth.

“Yeah.” Chakotay confirmed through a mouthful of cake. With a flick of his wrist, he scraped off the few remaining strawberries she hadn’t already picked off and left them at the side of the plate, then licked the cream off the fork.

Seven kissed him on the corner of his mouth. “Did Tom take a picture?” she murmured with an impish grin.

“Yes…” Chakotay drew out slowly, “But when the Zeburi insisted all three of us wear their traditional dress for the last of the banquets, and more pictures were taken, they were all conveniently deleted…”

“I could likely recover them from the camera…”

“Don’t you dare!” Chakotay cut her off, poking her playfully in the side.

“But your report would be clearer with some visual evidence…” Seven began innocently.

He snorted, “I’m pretty sure Kathryn will be able to read between the lines, or weasel the full story out of me. If Tom hasn’t spilled the beans to B’Elanna already…”

“As you have spilled them to me.” She pointed out.

“Maybe I haven’t told you the really juicy embarrassing bits.” Chakotay teased.

“Perhaps not.” Seven agreed, though with doubt thick in her voice, reinforced as she snuggled confidently into him.

He set the plate on his knees for now and brought an arm around her shoulders to give even more access. “Harry dropped a bombshell on us. He’s going to ask Celes to marry him.”

Seven pulled her face away from its comfortable spot in the crook of his neck, giving him full view of her wide, pleased smile. “That’s wonderful.” She murmured sincerely, but then couldn’t resist quirking a brow at him. “But why was it a ‘bombshell’? They have been together almost as long as we have, and I’ve told you how Harry’s parents always discuss their ‘prospective daughter in law’ with him…”

Chakotay laughed, even he’d overheard the Kims’ enthusiasm if he visited Seven in Astrometrics when it happened to be Harry’s turn on the comm. line. “I don’t know, it was just how he told us. Here we were playing cards, nagging him to make a move and suddenly he came out with it.”

“He was focused on his real move then.”

“Right.” Chakotay smiled to himself, “I think that’s why he let us two old marrieds in on his plans, so we could keep him on course.”

“We’re not old.” Seven countered with a note of insistence that had him chuckling. Maybe hours after a birthday wasn’t the best time to remark on age… “When did we stop being newlyweds exactly?” she asked wryly.

“Uh…at least a year ago?” He guessed with a shrug. “Maybe we hold onto the title until Harry and Celes can claim it though.”

“Oh, is that how it’s decided?” Seven shook her head at him and he just raised his eyebrows. She settled back against the pillows with a soft sigh. “I think they will be happy together. It will also be useful for the crew to have a distraction…”

“Distraction?” Chakotay echoed, turning onto his side to regard her. “Did something happen?” The frown starting to furrow his brow smoothed out when a warm, private smile passed fleetingly over her full lips, but he was still curious. “Seven?”

She hesitated for a beat. “The crew always get fully, perhaps overly, involved.” She said quietly, turning into him. Her eyes closed with pleasure as his hand slipped under the shirt she wore for bed, once one of his, and moved languidly over her skin, leaving goosebumps in its wake. “What did you advise him?”

“On how to abate the crew’s wedding fever? I didn’t want to scare him off…” Seven opened one eye to shoot him an impatient look and he laughed. “I told him to make sure he doesn’t drop the ring.”

“It wasn’t damaged, and I picked it up.” Seven reminded him unconcernedly, kissing him as he breathed a sheepish chuckle. “Was that all you advised?”

He wrapped his arms around her back. “I had a few more pearls of wisdom.” The husk in his whisper drew her even closer, her own arms looping over him, but he held back from the kiss, grimacing in apology. “I told him not to miss his wife’s birthday.” As her mouth opened to object, he silenced her with a tender kiss on the forehead. “Perdóname.”

“There was nothing to forgive.” Seven answered, looking directly into his eyes. “And the Captain assured me this morning she will do her best to ensure you are on board this time next year.”

“That’s good.”

Seven was touched by the relief on his face. “Really, your and the Captain’s concern is appreciated, but unnecessary…”

Chakotay sighed, though his gaze was more worried than exasperated. “Let us care about you, corazón.” He tucked a lock of hair behind her ear as she nibbled her lip for a minute before relaxing again, giving him a grateful look. “So…Irene used to make this cake for you?”

“Just once.” Seven replied quietly, “My third birthday. 43 days before the Raven departed. We were talking, and the taste came back to me so…vividly. Then I craved it…”

“It’s a memorable cake.” Chakotay encouraged, glancing down at his empty plate and moving it to the bedside table.

“There were other thoughts…memories. Little more than flashes.” She shook her head, as if still trying to clear it. “But Aunt Irene helped me…fill in gaps.”

“I’m sure she was glad to.” Chakotay’s hand shifted briefly to her back, soothing rather than enticing. Irene had won his respect over time, though he’d liked her at once, because she was careful not to push Seven too hard. There was no emotional blackmail. He knew that, as infrequently as they were able to talk, often Magnus and Erin did not come up at all. Irene would answer questions, and add her take on anything Seven recalled.

“Then she showed me some…mementos…” Seven hesitated over the word, “…that she had in her possession. Toys, artwork, pictures…” She swallowed, “Baby things.”

Chakotay held her tighter, and she put her face into his shoulder for a moment. “That must’ve been hard.”

“Yes.” She confirmed. He could feel her jaw wobbling, then setting stoically before she pulled back to see his face. “But it was something of a relief too. That such things were relevant to them was…reassuring.” She gave a tight sigh, conflict in her eyes. “The flies we recovered from the Raven are not especially personal.” Chakotay only nodded, giving her the space to think and speak. Though a good deal of the Raven’s files were marked ‘Personal’, their obsession with their work had bled into everything. Though he’d never voice this to Seven, any mentions of what little Annika had been doing almost always felt like footnotes. However, he’d barely gone through a fraction back then, and Seven hadn’t touched them since. “I know that they didn’t protect me as they should have, that I perhaps was not cared for as a child deserves, but it is a comfort to see evidence that they did love me. However little that changes things.”

“Of course that’s a comfort.” Chakotay replied thickly. “It may not change anything that happened but it can mean a lot.”

Seven’s eyes closed again, this time in weariness. “I asked her to keep it all for me. Was that the right decision?”

“I think so.” He replied quietly.

Seven’s eyes fluttered back open, those striking blue eyes regarding him thoughtfully for a few silent moments. “What about you?” she murmured, “Your childhood…”

“My parents saved a lot, but when the village…” He didn’t need to go on, not with Seven. She’d told him once she could remember what he’d seen that day. “Sekaya took some of it when she left home, but it’ll all be hers no doubt…” He rolled his eyes affectionately and Seven gave a small smile. The strong character of his sister went a long way to explaining how he could handle the Captain and B’Elanna, as well as herself. “I backed up every family photo when I left home.” All the ones with his mother anyway, it had been like a compulsion. There hadn’t been many photos taken after her death. He watched Seven’s gaze flicker to the still photos and holo-images throughout the room, all pulled from a data drive he kept in his medicine bundle, the one thing saved from the Valjean. There was a photo of the Hansens on honeymoon in front of the Trevi Fountain, the Borg far from their minds. The one picture of Annika Hansen Seven had chosen to display was one with Irene, not her parents. “And I think my uncles will have a few things, they’re packrats.”

“Aunts and uncles are good people to have.”

“They are.” Chakotay agreed as he rolled her onto her back, his weight settling between her parting legs as she tugged his head down to kiss him. “I’m sorry I wasn’t here.” He murmured against her lips.

“You are now.” Seven stated, running her hand along his strong jawline. “I’m fine.” She smiled at him in reassurance. “I’m better than fine in fact.”

“I’ll still make it up to you.” He insisted as his mouth sought and found the sensitive spot on her throat. “We’ll use that holodeck time I booked and…”

Seven cut him off with a snort. “You mean the slot you booked three weeks ago, for 1900 hours last night?”

Chakotay cringed, “¡Maldición!” he cursed, “Seven, I…”

“I traded it with Ensign Kyoto, your holodeck time is safe.” She assured him quickly, “You now have slot for next Thursday at the same time.”

“But that makes your birthday very belated!” Chakotay protested, embarrassed, but at the amused look on her face he could only burst out laughing. “I’ll make it up to you, querida.” He vowed, “Everything next year will be much better organised, te lo prometo.

“I think we will have other things on our mind next year.” Seven remarked wryly.

“Like what?” Chakotay replied, kissing the shell of her ear as he whispered, “Are you saying I’ll forget? I just promised you!” His teasing grin widened as she shivered with pleasure. He deliberately shifted his attention to the starburst implant under her ear, and was rewarded with her usual gasp.

“I heard you…” Reluctantly she cupped his chin to direct his eyes back to hers. “But I remain certain that your next birthday will be better than mine.”

“Oh?” Chakotay chuckled, “Is that a challenge?” He pecked a kiss on her nose. “What exactly can you have planned already?”

Seven’s gaze grew skittish for a second as she gulped. “It was not exactly planned…” The nervous laugh that burst from her lips lightened into joy as she focused on him. “But your birthday is 36 weeks from now, so…”

Chakotay gazed down at her blankly, happily dazzled by her beaming smile but utterly confused. “Yeah…I guess it is.” He agreed with a shrug. He could only laugh with her when she did; she actually giggled, an infectiously happy sound. He grinned at her lopsidedly, “¿Qué significa…?

“Oh, the Doctor was quite explicit on what it means, älskling. According to his calculations, if all progresses well, that’s when our baby is due.”

Chakotay’s grin froze in place for two impossibly long seconds, then widened until it split his face. “¿Verdad?” he whispered, growing choked and tearful with her as she nodded, her eyes glistening. “¿Verdad, mi vida?” They met in a passionate kiss, then another, before his attention moved down to her stomach. He pulled up her shirt and laid a gentle, reverent kiss on her belly.

Verdad.” She confirmed in a shaky whisper, “The Doctor realised when he scanned me yesterday morning. I made him promise not to say anything until you had returned…” She laughed again, at least partially, Chakotay assumed, about the means she’d had to go to, to exact such a promise. “This birthday will certainly be memorable…”

“Yeah.” Chakotay breathed, overwhelmed as he kissed her again, his hand already protective on her stomach. “But I know whose birthday will be the most memorable to us.”

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.