A/n: I know many of my other fics deserve updating, but lots of people were desperate to know what would happen after the party and my imagination complied. Thanks for the support everyone! :)

Seven's acute hearing focused in on the pitiless click of her new high heels on the corridor's smooth floor as the disconcerting silence between herself and Commander Chakotay lingered stubbornly on. From her observations of the crew, she'd discovered to her disadvantage that humanoids tended to dislike periods with little or no conversation and would go to sometimes embarrassing lengths to fill it with inconsequential chatter that she had little idea how respond to. At this moment though, paradoxically, she found herself mentally begging Chakotay to take up this habit that she normally found so irksome, if only to distract her from thoughts concerning him and their evening which would undoubtedly lead her into a labyrinth of confusing emotions she'd rather not unravel.

Perhaps he was merely accompanying her out of politeness, he had said that it was a social convention for guests to be taken home by the person who'd invited them out, but he'd also been prodded into it by Captain Janeway and had made it clear that he had work to complete. She didn't want to be the unwitting source of his delay. That thought was enough to stop her in her tracks, the patent heels giving one last click as her feet came together.

Chakotay was walking just a pace or so behind her, lost in his own thoughts as he watched her move. It fascinated him somehow that even her gait was a unique mix of strict Borg precision and easy, feminine grace. The two things should have been utterly incompatible, yet Seven combined them fluidly and unconsciously. Her bearing was as upright as a marching general, arms pinned behind her back as her feet beat measured, exact steps into the floor, yet there was little harshness to the movement. In his eyes she moved as smooth as a swan through water, her hips still managing to sway alluringly in front of him. When she came to an abrupt stop, he was so distracted he very nearly collided with her, just managing to judder to a halt within a few hair breadths of her back. "What's wrong?" he asked quickly to cover up his embarrassment, "Did you leave something in Sandrine's?"

Seven shook her head, biting her lip as she thought wryly; I left behind my sense of composure. "No." She answered, chancing throwing him a quizzical glance over her shoulder, "I did not bring any superfluous belongings with me to the holodeck."

Chakotay swallowed as he chuckled awkwardly, "Right, of course." He agreed, mentally cursing the question, Seven wasn't exactly the type to carry a purse around, let alone leave it lying somewhere. "Why'd you stop then?" he asked good-naturedly, "You still want to go back to the Cargo Bay right?"

"Yes, I must regenerate." Seven confirmed briskly before ducking her gaze down from his, looking ahead down the corridor towards the turbolift which would take her down to Cargo Bay 2. "I was merely going to assure you that you are under no obligation to accompany me, I know that you must be anxious to complete the crew duty rosters."

If Seven hadn't looked so genuinely concerned and innocent at the moment, Chakotay might've thought she was teasing him and laughed. Obviously his excuse to leave the party with her had backfired somewhat, he should've known Seven, utterly guileless as she was, would've taken his apparent dedication to the duty rosters at face value. "Duty rosters can wait; I finished this week's before I came out to the party actually." He informed her honestly, smiling weakly as he saw her bemused expression, "I enjoyed the party, but it's been a long couple of days for both of us." He smiled at her, "I need sleep more than you need regeneration!"

Guilt rather than the laugh he'd been hoping for after this light remark settled over Seven's face. "Then you should return to your quarters and not concern yourself with me, I know that the Captain said you should check that I do as she asked, but…"

"What the Captain said is irrelevant." Chakotay interrupted her firmly, "What you do doesn't need to be approved of by me or anyone else." He forced himself to back down as she appeared gratified but startled by his words. "Anyway, like I said earlier, its good manners to accompany you back and we didn't get enough chances to talk in a crowded place like Sandrine's." Seven met his gaze in surprise. They had talked a great deal at the party; he'd conversed with her more than with anyone else and vice versa. She was about to point this fact out to him when Chakotay spoke again, his tone still light and teasing even as she sensed his dark gaze becoming serious, "Unless you're bored of my company Crewman?"

Seven tore her face away from his, having realised by now that it was a futile exercise to suppress her blush reflex around him. "No, no, of course not…" Out of the corner of her eye she saw regret for her embarrassment flicker across his face, his fingers resting briefly on her arm, again making the skin under the lace sleeve warm. She found herself twitching an eyebrow at him as her discomfort suddenly retreated, "I can assure you that I have tolerated much more boredom than you inspire, sir."

Chakotay laughed outright at the spark in her eyes as she emphasised "sir" in the same joking way as he had called her "Crewman", though much more successfully deadpan than he had managed. "Alright then, it's agreed, neither one of us is bored, so let's keep walking shall we?" He grinned as she nodded, falling fully into step with her this time as they moved towards and entered the turbolift rather than hanging behind her. "Honestly Seven, I find it hard to believe that the Doctor hasn't taught you about proper manners with parties. I invited you to come with me; I wouldn't have let you leave alone and kept on partying myself."

Seven fought the urge to snap around to face him fully in the confined space of the turbolift, instead reining herself in to a sweeping glance at his face. His expression was honest and open, he was totally unaware of the effect his words had had on her. Yes, he'd convinced her to attend the party, but she hadn't dared suspect that he'd invited her specifically. They'd both attended at Neelix's request, that was all, the more rational side of her brain insisted, but the idea of his requesting her presence seemed to latch onto her emotions like a vice and then squeeze. "I…" She trailed off for a moment, forgetting what he had said, but then pulled herself together in response to his inquisitive gaze, though her heart still pumped a little too quickly as she spoke, "Well, I'm sure that the Doctor has informed me of that convention at some point, but as all of the individuals I interact with in my social lessons are holograms, they cannot exactly accompany me home." She allowed her lips a wry twist, "The Doctor probably would, but by the time my lessons come to an end we are generally mutually ready to be apart." She gave a small sigh as he nodded knowingly, "In such simulations we can frustrate each other a great deal."

"I can believe that." Chakotay agreed sympathetically as they stepped out of the turbolift. He tried not to shudder as they walked down the dark, Borg technology infested corridor to Cargo Bay 2's huge, imposing doors, remembering his earlier thoughts about Seven being penned down here. That belief had only intensified tonight as he'd become more acutely aware of the Captain and the Doctor's patronising treatment of her. "Seven…" He broached carefully as he followed her inside the cavernous space that was the Cargo Bay, "Does certain behaviour…" He cleared his throat, fearful of offending her or worse her not knowing what he meant, "…by particular crewmembers upset you?"

Seven, who'd left his side to calibrate her alcove, turned to gaze at him directly while still nonchalantly dialling commands into the alcove's control panel. "You are referring to the Doctor and Captain Janeway?" she questioned bluntly, lifting her metallic eyebrow once again as he blanched at her directness but didn't deny it. "I noticed that my interactions with them seemed to unsettle you." She clarified softly.

And they say this woman is ignorant of people's feelings, Chakotay thought silently, marvelling at her perceptiveness while also wondering, perhaps egotistically, if it was limited to him. "Yes." He admitted quietly before taking on a stronger tone, "It did more than "unsettle" me Seven, it irritated me. You've grown so much as a person and they seem to forget that more often than they should."

Seven's brow furrowed as she considered this. "You say they were…patronising this evening…" She began slowly, waiting for Chakotay to give a saddened, exasperated nod before continuing, "But you forget that they are my patrons in many ways." She pointed out, "I have resisted them often, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse, but if I always disregard their advice on trivial or irrelevant matters, they may not give it when I do require it." She sighed heavily, leaning against her alcove as she felt his eyes on her and unable to stop her own eyes from giving a small roll, "One of the main things I have had to learn on Voyager is tolerance of others' opinions." Her tone became self-deprecating, "It is a skill I have yet to perfect."

"It's difficult for everyone sometimes." Chakotay replied quietly, his voice so muted and thoughtful that Seven found herself studying him. His gaze had become distant, his jaw had tightened, and she had to wonder whether her words had upset him. He wasn't offended, she knew that much, but she was surprised to realise that he understood. She did not inquire about the Maquis as a rule, she'd realised from her earliest days on Voyager that politics was even more out of line as an investigative subject than the crew's romantic lives, and as such knew little more than bare facts about how the Maquis crew had integrated with the Voyager crew in the years before she'd come abroad. Human nature alone dictated that the transition must've been difficult for the Maquis crewmembers, but she'd always believed that Chakotay had accepted his position early on. Unlike her, he'd never seemed to have to work to hide underlying conflict, he was always calm, unruffled, willing to compromise. It only struck her now that that exterior was hard for him to maintain, he'd had enough disagreements with the Captain over the years, not least with bringing her onboard, to show that he did exert anger and outrage when the situation was dire enough. Perhaps it had been as difficult for him, in his own way, to adapt to Voyager as it had been for her. As the last of these thoughts occurred to her, Chakotay seemed to shake his regrets off as if he'd heard her inner voice. "I had a great time tonight Seven, I'm glad you decided to come."

"As am I." Seven agreed shyly, "I enjoyed the new experiences." She flushed as she thought she saw a new intensity fill his eyes for a moment, and lowered her head, covering her confusion by indicating her dress. "This new attire seemed to be well received also."

Chakotay stepped closer, smiling warmly now. "Of course it was, you're beautiful." He said simply, swallowing hard as he saw her cheeks grow pinker. "You know…" He added huskily, saying the first words that came into his dazed mind, "If you wanted to, I'm sure you could be more flexible with what you wore for duty shifts, maybe even a uniform."

Seven's eyes shot piercingly up to his, wary and questioning. He could see the hope in her pale blue irises too though and felt guilty for using his knowledge of her holodeck simulations to gain insight, but then again, all he wanted at that moment was to see fully into her mind. "I could not, I was Borg, the crew would be uncomfortable and I do not deserve…"

"You deserve every bit of recognition you get now and much more Seven." Chakotay cut in firmly, "The crew wouldn't be offended, you're a part of this crew now and you're certainly not Borg."

Seven felt her resolve to refuse waver as he looked upon her so emphatically, his belief in her evident and empowering but also frightening in a way she couldn't describe, her heart starting to race again. "Well, I suppose I could request a Crewman's uniform since I haven't been through Starfleet Academy but still it breaks regulations and the Captain…"

"The Captain will be happy that you've asked." Chakotay assured her gently, sighing a little as he saw she still looked unsure. It was another anomaly of Seven's life here that she was in limbo between being entirely unacknowledged by Starfleet yet somehow considered a senior officer as well. Despite her being modest and sticking to Crewman, he knew that in the reality of everyday life on Voyager Seven only really put herself under the command of the Captain, himself and Tuvok. Out of the Lieutenants on board, only B'Elanna, of course, thought to order her around at all. "Listen, if it would make you more comfortable I'll come with you when you ask the Captain for permission."

Seven exhaled more heavily than she'd intended. "I'd appreciate that Chakotay."

Chakotay gave her hand a brief, encouraging squeeze. "How about tomorrow then? We can talk to the Captain and then have dinner."

"Dinner?" Seven echoed uncertainly, then nodded dumbly as she realised that was impolite. "If you wish." She swallowed hard as she began to feel her head begin to hurt in earnest. The failsafe… Still, even as the thought of that threat occurred to her, she found herself saying, "I'd like that."

Chakotay didn't think as her shocked, nearly whispered, reply hit his ears, he bent his head and let his lips brush her cheek. He knew at once, as soon as he touched her feather soft skin and felt the spark of desire run through him, that he'd acted on one impulse too far. It would've been easier, in many ways, simpler, if he could just move to her lips and kiss her. All of the confusing feelings and what ifs would disappear then, he wouldn't need to tell her everything, actions spoke louder than words after all. He withdrew though after barely a second, feeling temptation again as she gazed up at him in disbelief, rosy faced. "I really enjoyed tonight Seven. It's another tradition to kiss your companion goodbye."

"Oh." Seven murmured, colouring deeper. She supposed that made sense, the Captain was always exchanging pecks on the cheek with her DaVinci hologram, she shouldn't read so much into it, and yet… Acting on autopilot, she tilted her head and hastily returned the gesture, feeling her palms grow damp as her lips lingered for a split second on his warm skin. She heard his breathing quicken and tensed as she pulled back, also breathless. "I enjoyed myself also…" She forced out, stumbling over the next thing that suddenly needed to be asked, "Chakotay, will this dinner be a…a date?"

She stiffened in preparation for his horror at her blatant misunderstanding, but instead relief and even pleasure diffused over his handsome face. "I'd like it to be Seven." He replied in a gentle, low voice, smiling slightly at her shocked expression before hurriedly turning to leave.