“I hear you’ve got a boxer in the family?”
Seven looked up from her console, not so much because of the question itself, but the sheer enthusiasm of the Commander’s tone. “You heard correctly.” She blinked at the sight of his grin, so broad it opened his whole face- the muscles around his eyes affected as well as his cheeks. She’d held his attention before of course- he was pleasant to interact with in that way, but there was a difference between his guarded civilities, his focused interest at her shoulder in Astrometrics and…this. “I presume you heard this from Mr Neelix?”
“You presume correctly.” He echoed her without as evident a teasing lilt as Tom Paris, though his smile remained. According to her social lessons, aping your conversational partner’s style of speech could help them to relax. The technique had never been effective for her, though she also wasn’t good at it. She had to wonder- enviously- if Chakotay was even doing it consciously, it seemed so natural. “So, who was your relative? I might’ve heard of them-”
“Doubtful. He was active during the 22nd Century, 12 generations removed from myself and was a mixed martial arts fighter, not a-”
“MMA?” He interrupted, swinging himself onto the bench across from her. “Which disciplines did he specialise in?”
Seven frowned for a split second as she recalled the data, “…Judo, Taekwondo and Muay Thai kickboxing.”
Chakotay nodded thoughtfully, “He was well-rounded then. Judo for ground control, Muay Thai and Taekwondo for clinching and striking.”
“You’re involved in this sport?”
His mouth formed a brief ‘o’ before he laughed, “That’s flattering Seven, but no. I’ve watched. I wouldn’t last thirty seconds in an MMA cage.”
“Just another type of boxing ring.” He reassured her a little too quickly.
“But an extreme turn of phrase, as the whole activity seems to be.”
“But what’s more laudable than pushing your capabilities to their absolute limits and beyond?” He argued, gaze and posture impassioned. He leaned forward, his knees, radiating warmth, brushing hers. She shifted, crossing her own legs at the ankle as her upper body was drawn in. “Isn’t it impressive that these sportspeople had command of so many different styles and were always learning, always looking for a new advantage?”
“It is.” She agreed steadily. She knew he was trying to appeal to her, but they were good points. “Any sport could be dismissed as irrelevant…” She noted the way his shoulders eased slightly, that she wasn’t singling out his sports for censure, as she knew the Doctor did relentlessly. “…but they can be the pinnacle of individual physical achievement, and competition is required to make it appealing to pursue.”
“Right.” He sat back from her now, satisfied she understood. “I think your relative-?”
“Sven Hansen.” She supplied, “’Buttercup’.”
He smirked at that, “…Sven would be happy that you understand and are even…proud of him?”
Seven’s brow furrowed. “…I suppose. He had a relatively successful career and appears to have enjoyed it.”
“That’s the main thing.” Another grin, this time definitely teasing. Her stomach made a strange, twisting dip. “And you know, with a stage name like ‘Buttercup’, he must’ve been intimidating.”
She regarded him with some incredulity, though it wouldn’t be the strangest quirk she’d heard of in human culture, particularly in sport. “It merely led me to presume we shared a hair colour.”
“Yeah…” He chuckled, “I’d assume so. What I meant was, the most badass fighters tend to have the most innocuous nicknames.”
“Then what does ‘The Maquis Mauler’ signify?”
He threw his head back in a surprised cackle of a laugh, “That I’m overcompensating for something, I guess!”
‘You’re not.’ She was aware of blood rushing to her face, though his laugh told her she had not made a faux pas to be embarrassed over.
“…should try it one day. I’m happy to give you access to the Boothby programme-”
Seven gave a start as she realised she’d missed some of what he was saying. Neelix’s fault, for bringing up procreation and setting her mind on irrelevant paths… “The Boothby programme?”
“I think it’s the best boxing programme we have on file.” He told her with confidence.
‘Even after…?’ She pressed her lips together tightly.
“What?” Chakotay regarded her keenly- her mouth had started to ask something, a question stark in her azure eyes, but she’d snuffed it out. “What were you going to say?” It would be lying to say he wasn’t surprised- in his experience Seven had two settings, completely holding her peace or saying exactly what she thought. He hadn’t thought he see her catching herself.
Seven remained silent for a long moment before sighing softly. “I thought that you may have been dissuaded from using that programme after your…experiences in Chaotic Space.”
His first instinct was to clam up, and tightly and he suspected Seven would’ve dropped it with the slightest brush off, but the empathy glimmering somewhere under the ineloquent statement gave him pause. “…Yeah.” He eventually conceded, swallowing. “It did, but you have to get back on the horse some time, right?” He jerked up his chin, “I wasn’t going to let aliens ruin something I love…” He cleared his throat, “…especially aliens who didn’t mean me any harm, in the end.”
Seven’s gaze, clear and luminous as stained glass, pierced through him. She could be naïve yes, but she wasn’t easy to fool either. “I’m glad you can find pleasure in boxing again.”
He gave a wry shrug. “Isn’t that what this whole conversation has been about? That and history, my other passion.” He straightened and eyed her console with curiosity. “What other ancestors did you discover?”
She allowed him to change the subject. “I have been able to trace my lineage back to the mid 19th Century on the paternal side and the early 20th Century with some gaps on the maternal side.”
Chakotay noticed she didn’t use ‘my’ when referring to either paternal side but filed that away in his mind in favour of uttering a low whistle. “That’s impressive, really great. I’ve struggled with going back further than the early 21st.” His mouth twisted regretfully, “Unfortunately the majority of my bloodline before that grew up in a region beset with conflict where records were one of the first things to burn, or where baptismal records alone are the norm. Most of those were never computerised.” He sighed, “Then there are all those people who had to stay off databases to hold onto better lives…” He gave a rueful smile, “So my ancestry is a patchwork, and I’ll likely never fill in the gaps.”
Insignificant, that was what she’d told the Captain and it was still logically true, she wouldn’t repeat the point. Each piece contributed to a whole after all. Maybe it was Sven’s obstinate fearlessness, arrogance in the face of danger, that her father had inherited… She shoved the thought away, focusing on the Commander. “So your historical tradition is orally based?”
He was obviously pleased with the simple insight. “Largely, yes, and very rich it is too. My father though, he wanted to record as much of it as possible, and then live that lifestyle…” A brief scowl marred his features as he trailed off. He shook his head as if to clear it and added almost dismissively, “Anyway, that’s my background.”
“Yes.” Seven said in a neutral tone as she clicked off the console, sensing he did not want to continue this line of discussion. “And I believe I have researched mine in sufficient depth to satisfy the Captain.”
“The Captain?” Chakotay repeated, “I thought-” He cut himself off, leaning back from her. “Of course, Kathryn told you to.” He muttered.
Seven was unsettled by his reaction, though unsure as to why. “The Captain encouraged me to-”
“She ordered you to, Seven.”
She bristled in the Captain’s defence. “No. She did as you’ve been doing, encouraging me to express interest, sharing her own stories. It was my decision to pursue this line of research as much as I have.”
“Right.” Chakotay hastily backtracked, “Right, of course. I shouldn’t have assumed.”
Her eyes narrowed, suddenly shards of ice as her hackles remained raised. “What did you assume?”
He likely could’ve safely brushed the question with a few more seconds thought, but as it was his offended pride at her tone that answered, defensiveness making him unguardedly honest. “At first I thought you’d sought this out yourself, and that would’ve been a good sign, but when you said she needed to be satisfied, I thought she’d pressed you to read your parents’ diaries first and this was your compromise. It wouldn’t have been right for her to do that.”
Seven lurched up from her seat, ignoring the curious stares that drew from around the Mess Hall. Her heart was racing at the knowledge that he’d hit her own fear, unfounded as it had been in the end. “You are correct, that wouldn’t have been right.” She ground out, “I can assure you that I have thus far been able to resist such pressure without your righteous defence. Does that assuage your guilt over submitting to such an order yourself?”
“No.” The denial came to his lips faster than understanding. The impact of her own words hit Seven first. The colour that indignation had stained her cheeks with drained away, and her narrowed eyes widened into blue saucers. He wanted to look away- was desperate to in fact- but he continued to stare, his stomach plunging as he saw fear dart across her striking features. Not embarrassment, not shame- fear. He’d seen it too often not to recognise it. He knew Seven and himself had been locked in a pact of mutual wariness in those first arduous months, but she hadn’t backed down from an argument then or since, and he’d certainly never thought she’d had any reason whatsoever to be afraid of his reaction, whatever she said. Guilt that had only needled while he’d actually read the damn diaries suddenly churned in his stomach to the point of nausea. “Seven, I-”
“I apologise, Commander.” She cut him off. Her stance had been momentarily inward, hunched and anxious, but she now stood with her usual martial elegance, with a stubborn turn to her shoulders. “I spoke out of turn.” She took a breath, shakier than she would’ve wished. “If you’ll excuse me, I must relieve Crewman Celes in Astrometrics.”
A quick mental run-through of the duty rosters he’d set that week told him she was lying- her break was over. He sighed, aware that she’d probably appreciate being let go more than anything he could say at this point. “Of course.”
The ripple of relief that visibly passed over her proved him right. With a deeper nod than usual to him, a wobbly smile towards Neelix and a brief glower at the awkward spectators- in other circumstances their deer-in-headlights expressions would’ve made him chuckle- she marched out of the room.
“So, you think we’ll hold Ancestors’ Eve again next year?”
It took Megan not answering her sister’s question for Seven to glance up to meet Jenny’s enquiring gaze. “…I don’t see why not. It was an enriching experience.”
“When have you ever known Neelix to drop a tradition?” Megan added as she smiled in agreement with Seven’s answer. “And God knows, we need a little more enriching every year. Like B’Elanna said, it’s an excuse to get out of the Jeffries conduits and into party mode.”
Seven considered reminding her that her role in Astrometrics excused her from much…’grease monkey’ work as Tom called it but instead she asked dryly, “Are you dissatisfied with your ancestors, Ensign?”
“No, no, the Delaneys have always been the cream of the crop.” She answered with a smirk. “Though I would liked to be able to show that. No one told me about the ship wide genealogy project until it was too late in the day to dig up any real dirt!”
“You know…like the great-great-great uncle who was a bigamist, or the twenty times great grandmother who won the Gold Rush!”
Jenny was rolling her eyes even before Seven lifted an enquiring brow her way. “Not at all true as far as I know, or at least exaggerated.”
“It’s just not fair that Harry freaking Kim has a cooler ancestor than us!” Megan groused playfully, undeterred.
“I’m sure you have sufficiently cool ancestors.” Seven assured her patiently.
“We have 364 days left to find out.” Jenny said pragmatically, “Next time we’re bored, we’ll look some up. Any research tips for the…attention span challenged, Seven?”
Seven’s gaze flicked towards the ceiling. “Your attention span is fine, Megan. Though everything can be improved.”
“Yeah, yeah, you’ve proved you must be related to almost as many smart-asses as Jenny and I.”
Seven decided the only appropriate response to that was a hum of agreement as she turned her attention back to her console. The twins kept up the banter back and forth, but she knew that they’d soon settle down and follow her lead by going back to work. Or really, Megan would continue her shift and Jenny would eventually leave, having technically been relieved by her sister. She added another detail to the daily report, longer than usual despite the unremarkable scan results. If she hadn’t finished it, the Commander would offer her more time and politely leave, as he’d done before. There was always the chance he’d engage her in conversation at those times, A good chance, though not as much of a given as when she gave him a finished report. She sighed to herself, of course he was going to talk to her this time. Unless his awkwardness manifested similarly to her own and he wouldn’t speak of it at all. The simplest solution would be to ask Megan to give him the report, but she would ask why since she had never delegated that before. And Megan was persistent. Even if she’d heard all about the Mess Hall, she’d still ask…
The door swished open behind her. Her body was tensing even before the Delaneys chirped, “Hello, Commander” in unison.
“Hey, Megan, Jenny.” She knew without turning around he’d addressed each twin properly. He, like her, was one of the rare crewmembers who could tell the sisters apart without hesitation or error. “Hey, Seven.”
“You’ve got holodeck time tonight, Chakotay?” Megan asked curiously.
‘What made her ask that?’ Finally Seven turned around and took in the sight of Chakotay, not in uniform but in casual athletic wear- with two sets of boxing gloves slung over one shoulder. “You’re…not here to pick up the report?”
He gave her a small smile as he shrugged, gloves bouncing slightly. “I had different research in mind, to be honest.”
Seven had caught the set of gloves before she’d truly registered he’d tossed them at her. She couldn’t help but the impressed glint in his eyes- together with amusement- and preen slightly, though logically her superior reflexes should be no surprise to him and no real source of pride for her. “Research?”
“Yeah…” He scratched the back of his neck, “…get a real feel for what your ancestor did.”
He met her arched eyebrow with an undaunted grin. “Are you coming?”
Jenny jumped in before Seven could rethink her agreement, though what she really wanted to do was laugh at the look on Megan’s face. ‘Priceless.’ “I’m happy to take back over here Seven. Enjoy your research.”
“Yeah…” Megan drew out, “It’ll be very…enriching.” At Jenny’s warning look, she gently grasped Seven’s arm and nudged her towards the door with an encouraging smile. “Go on, have fun.”
Seven started to open her mouth, then thought better of it, tightening her grip around the gloves. “Proceed, Commander.”
“It’s Chakotay off duty, Seven. Come on.”