Summary: She really should know better by now. It’s not the first time her opening conversation with an alien dignitary has left them with the apparently indelible impression that Chakotay is her partner in more than just command.
Characters: Janeway, Chakotay, Original Character(s)
Disclaimer: Paramount/CBS own all rights to the Voyager universe and its characters, which I am borrowing without permission or intent to profit.
Her cheeks grow visibly flushed, and Chakotay realises suddenly just how long he’s been looking at her. Averting his eyes, he mumbles something lame and half-hearted that might pass for an apology, and moves quickly over to the rock shelf Nuella indicated to pour more of that ubiquitous wine. He gulps half of his own before he can make himself turn and face Kathryn again.
What the hell was he thinking, kissing her like that?
She’s not looking at him; her expression is closed-in and pensive as she gazes unseeingly at the floor. Maybe she’s calculating how many hours they’ll have to stay here before they can return to Voyager. Maybe she’s contemplating busting him down to crewman for assaulting a senior officer.
“Captain?” he asks warily.
“Is there any more of that wine?” Her tone is abrupt, and he crosses the room to hand her the full glass; he notices how carefully she avoids touching him as she takes it, and his heart sinks.
“Captain, I’m –”
“If you’re going to tell me you’re sorry, Chakotay, don’t. Just … don’t.”
Kathryn tips the contents of her glass down her throat in one swallow and stalks into the bathroom, both her under-the-breath muttering and her body language telling him loud and clear that he’ll follow at his peril.
He stares after her for a moment, then at the sounds of splashing water reminds himself to turn his back; the archway into the smaller room has no door, and it’s clear that Kathryn wants privacy.
It’s lucky that she doesn’t want his apology, he muses, because in truth, he’s not sorry he kissed her. He’s sorry for the awkwardness it will undoubtedly cause between them, and for the lonely nights he foresees until she can bring herself to stop making excuses to avoid him, until they can resume the balance that allows them to maintain their friendship. But kissing her? He’ll never be sorry for that.
He stares unseeingly into his half-empty glass, remembering how soft her lips felt under his, the small breathy gasp that had robbed him of all restraint, the slender strength of her arms winding around his neck, her body against his – and he’s forced to suppress a groan as he sinks onto the edge of the bed.
The bed they’re expected to share, which, despite its vast size, cannot possibly be large enough for his comfort.
He jumps in near-fright; he hadn’t heard Kathryn return to the main chamber, and her voice is close. “Yes, ma’am,” he snaps out automatically as he stands and turns to face her.
She’s standing barely a metre away, her expression wavering between apprehension and resolve; her small frame is swathed in something gauzy and voluminous that she clutches tightly closed at her chest. Water beads her bare shoulders.
He should be looking away, Chakotay knows, but he can’t. To cover his own discomfort he asks lightly, “Another new outfit?”
“I don’t know where our uniforms are,” she says, slightly defensive. “But at least they brought our combadges.”
She tilts her chin at the shelf built into the rock wall above the bed Chakotay has studiously avoided looking at. Two glints of silver catch his eye, and Chakotay finds himself unexpectedly relieved.
They have a way out of here, if they need to take it. Or, rather, if he needs it. He can’t imagine that Kathryn is having as much trouble controlling her baser urges as he is right now, especially when he looks at her in that drape of fabric that hides precisely nothing …
“I know what you’re thinking,” says Kathryn.
His eyes flick up to her face, trying to hide his alarm. “You do?”
She smirks. “You’re wondering why Tuvok hasn’t interrupted us yet.”
Chakotay stares at her, then barks out a laugh. “This would usually be about the time he hails one of us,” he agrees.
His smile fades as her gaze drifts over to the bed looming conspicuously beside them. She bites her lip, one hand straying to the back of her neck. Colour rises in her cheeks.
“I’ll take the floor,” he finds himself saying.
Kathryn’s eyes cut back to him. “No,” she says on a sigh, dropping her hand to her side, “there’s no need for that, Chakotay. I’m perfectly able to …” she breaks off, then rallies, “I have plenty of experience with controlling my impulses, Commander. You don’t have to worry about … inappropriate advances from me.”
Chakotay feels as though he’s temporarily stepped sideways into another universe; one where Kathryn doesn’t immediately shut down any attempt to delineate the nebulous borders of whatever it is between them.
“I wasn’t aware that your … impulses … were a factor,” he says slowly, “let alone inappropriate ones.”
She gives him an exasperated look and folds her arms defensively, and oh how he wishes she wouldn’t do that; it draws his eyes to the supple slope of her breasts and the tight visible knots of her nipples, and fills his mind with visions of pushing that filmy fabric aside and finding nothing but Kathryn beneath –
“… disingenuous, Chakotay. I’m sure you’ve noticed.”
“What?” he tunes back in.
Clearly, he’s somehow managed to annoy her; Kathryn throws up her hands – a motion which makes her drapery shift in alarming ways – and steps up to him.
“We’re both adults,” she announces, glaring up at him as her hands settle on her hips. “And as colleagues … as friends, I think we can handle a little honesty between us. Don’t you?”
“Um,” he says. “Yes?”
It’s the right answer, fortunately, because Kathryn’s shoulders relax and her lips soften into a small smile. “Good,” she says. “Maybe that will make this ridiculous situation easier. So, Commander – Chakotay,” she amends, “I know you’ve worked hard to keep our relationship on friendly terms, as have I, so let me reassure you that you have nothing to fear. The bed is big enough that we can share it without unnecessary contact.”
Kathryn’s eyes flicker with uncertainty. “Of course, if you’re still uncomfortable with the situation, I’ll sleep on the floor.”
Finally, his brain grinds into gear. “No,” he rushes. “No, there’s no need – you won’t. No. The bed is … fine.”
She nods slowly. “All right. Thank you.”
They stare at each other for a moment longer, until Kathryn’s colour begins to rise again and she drops her gaze.
“Well,” she mumbles, “I’m a little tired. I think I’ll turn in.”
“Which side do you –” she blushes harder, then draws a deep breath and smiles at him. “This is ridiculous. I usually sleep on the left, but if you have a preference …?”
“No.” Chakotay finds himself grinning as well. “I don’t mind.”
“All right.” Kathryn skirts around him and perches on the edge of the bed, running her fingers through her hair. “My kingdom for a comb,” she mutters wryly.
“I could –” The words get stuck on his tongue, and before he can finish the offer he knows he shouldn’t make, Chakotay bows his head.
By the time he lifts his gaze, Kathryn is buried under the covers.
“I guess I should wash up too,” he mutters, and escapes to the bathroom.
She’s sprawled across a pliant, solid surface, her cheek resting on something smooth and warm that rises and falls in drawn-out, even measure. Under her ear is an echoing drumbeat. Something stirs the hair at her crown.
A breeze, or breath?
Kathryn blinks slowly, her mind reaching out to each individual component of her own body in turn. Taking stock.
The small of her back, covered by spread fingers and warm palm.
Her own fingers, wrapped possessively into a large, calloused hand.
One side of her face against a broad, bare chest; a heartbeat that synchronises with her own.
The hard jut of a hip against her lower abdomen …
Her thighs, spread by the occupying press of a muscled leg between them … a limb that twitches as she tenses, breath caught and eyes wide, all her attention suddenly focused on that part of her body. On how thrillingly invasive that masculine thigh feels, stretching her own. On the rushing response of heat that pools in her lower belly, pushes her hips into his, gathers wet and aching between her legs.
She utters a sound – part sigh, part yearning. The body beneath hers goes still, then rigid and taut. The breath stirring her hair stops, caught.
The heartbeat beneath her cheek begins to pound. The chest expands as air rushes in, and she feels him groan out a single syllable that could be the first half of her name or her title but before either of them can decide, she pushes up to fit her mouth to his.
His hands are in her hair and his tongue in her mouth, and she’s shoving herself onto him, pressed tight, abdomen and hips and thighs; she’s spreading herself around him, drawing him in, tugging him closer with a hand curled behind his head and fingers tight in his hair. She tips onto her back and pulls him to cover her, gasping as his lips find her throat and his hand finds her breast. She thrusts a hand between them, shoves his loose pants down so she can circle him with palm and fingers, revels in the buck of his hips and the way he collapses onto her; she splays her other hand over the base of his back and locks her thighs around his hips and whimpers yes please yes and then he’s inside her, hard, grinding, winding the sweet tension tighter and higher and she’s crying out, wrapping herself in him and around him and clutching his back, biting into his shoulder, maybe drawing blood because he shouts out something unintelligible as the hot pleasure bubbles and bursts inside her, blinding her, deafening her, leaving her trembling and raw.
Chakotay lies stretched across her, heavy and hot. His breath puffs against her neck, his skin sticking to hers. There’s the taste of salt and copper on her tongue, and she can feel how tightly she’s wound her fingers in his hair by the way they’re cramping. She unwinds them carefully, wincing.
At her soft sound of pain Chakotay raises his head to look at her, pushing his weight off her. He misinterprets her involuntary moan at the loss of contact. Alarm fills his eyes, then dread, then shame.
He scrambles out of the bed, fumbling to tie his pants closed.
“Kath- Captain,” he stammers, then, “Did I hurt you?”
Still confused, she stares at him in dawning dismay.
Did she just -?
Her body, even slower to catch up than her mind, informs her languidly that indeed, she did.
“Kathryn,” he pleads, urgent, “are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” she says absently, then, “Oh, fuck.”
Relief washes across his face, followed by a brief flash of dimples. “You could say that.”
Groaning, she drops her face into her hands.
“Hey.” The bed dips beside her. “It wasn’t that bad, was it?”
Kathryn is spared the need to answer by the unheralded entrance of Hartani, Nuella and several other beaming dignitaries. Flushing, she scrambles to tuck the sheet around her naked torso.
“Pleasant dawn, Captain, Commander,” trills Nuella. “I trust the renewal of your bond was all you hoped for.”
Beside her, Presider Hartani observes the bed’s disarray and the flush Kathryn is sure hasn’t yet faded from her skin.
“It certainly appears that way,” he offers, smiling broadly.
Diplomacy now, Kathryn reminds herself, snagging last night’s drapery from Chakotay’s outstretched fingers and wrapping it firmly around her body before she emerges from the rumpled bed. You can cry later.
“Good morning, Presider.” Her voice sounds slurred and husky in her own ears, and she coughs to clear it. “Might we have our uniforms?”
One of the Ruaitans steps forward, placing a neatly folded pile of red and black on the bed.
“Thank you,” Kathryn mumbles, staring at it and wondering if it will ever fit right again.
Watching her greet the Ruaitan delegation – hair tangled, body wrapped hastily in sheer fabric, but with her spine straight and her bearing regal – Chakotay reflects that someone who doesn’t know her well might think Kathryn is perfectly composed.
Knowing her as he does, though, his insides are churning and his throat closing over.
She might never speak to him again outside of their duty shifts. He might never visit her quarters for dinner, or joke with her, or rub her sore feet at the end of a long day; those simple liberties might be things of the past now. She might never lay her hand on his chest again, or give him that tender, quirky smile she saves just for him.
And, as much as he’s longed for what they’ve just done together, the trade-off isn’t worth it.
What the hell is wrong with me? he wonders miserably. Years of silent longing and rigid self-control overcome; years of friendship and carefully constructed barriers torn down. And all because he’d woken to find Kathryn in his arms and hadn’t been able to pull back.
If only he could blame the wine … but he knows he has nobody to blame but himself.
He watches Kathryn mouthing platitudes and smiling tightly until the Ruaitans, content that their ritual requirements have been satisfied, finally leave them alone. But then, of course, everything is worse, because Kathryn mumbles a barely intelligible excuse and rushes into the bathroom, and when she emerges a few minutes later, she is every inch the captain.
She collects their combadges from the shelf in the wall and strides toward him, and Chakotay finds himself straightening into the at-ease posture.
“Commander,” she says, her voice abrupt, his communicator held out on her palm.
He takes it.
She pins her own badge to her chest and taps it. “Janeway to Voyager.”
~Tuvok here,~ comes the reply.
“One to beam up.”
Tuvok acknowledges the order, and in the moment before the transporter takes hold, Chakotay reads regret in her eyes.
“I’ll see you at breakfast,” she says quietly, and then she’s gone.
The marks won’t come off.
Kathryn has already spent far longer in the shower than she intended. She’d hurried from the transporter room to her quarters, needing a few minutes’ solitude before she has to rejoin the Ruaitans … and Chakotay … at breakfast on Ruaita. Needing to breathe, to realign her priorities and put their indiscretion behind her. But, after stripping off her uniform and stepping into a hot water shower to wash the impression of Chakotay’s hands from her skin, she glances over her shoulder into the mirror and catches sight of the meandering, silvery patterns adorning her back.
Scrubbing them with a rough sponge has no effect. Nor does switching the shower setting to sonic pulses, nor her final, desperate attempt to scratch them off with her fingernails.
Shrugging back into her uniform, Kathryn pulls up the Ruaitan diplomatic briefing material on a padd and studies it, pacing her quarters with a much-needed mug of coffee in her other hand.
When they’d made first contact with Presider Hartani two days ago, she’d assigned Chakotay, Tuvok and Neelix to handle the intricacies of the formal proceedings while she, Tom and B’Elanna worked on the trade agreement. Chakotay had briefed her on the Rite of Inscription, of course. She’d known what she was getting into.
Or so she’d thought.
As she scrolls quickly through the dense paragraphs of text, Kathryn’s gaze skips over one little clause before her brain catches up. Swallowing, she reads it again. And again, as her eyes go wide and her breath begins to quicken.
… in this exceptional and happy circumstance, the marks will become permanent …
~Bridge to Captain Janeway.~
Kathryn jumps in shock as Tuvok’s voice echoes from her combadge. “Janeway here,” she gulps.
~We are being hailed from the surface, Captain. Ordanelle Nuella requests your presence at the celebratory breakfast.~
“Understood,” Kathryn grinds her teeth, “I’m on my way.”
She slaps the padd onto her desk with rather more force than required and strides toward the transporter room.
Chakotay nods politely and listens to Ordanelle Nuella with half an ear as he covertly watches Kathryn from the opposite side of the breakfast table.
Or rather, as he watches the captain. Having apparently decided that scrupulous formality is the best antidote to being caught naked in bed with her first officer, Kathryn is nowhere to be seen.
Except in the flash of icy fury she directs at Chakotay during a brief break in the conversation.
“Oh my, Commander. What have you done?”
Chakotay jumps slightly at Nuella’s murmured question. “Excuse me?”
The ordanelle’s large purple eyes flicker in Kathryn’s direction. “It seems you’ve displeased your,” the translator hesitates, glitching, then supplies, “bond-mate.”
“My … what?”
“Your bond-mate,” Nuella repeats, then as Chakotay continues to stare, “Your intimate companion, Commander. Your wife.”
Chakotay gapes at her.
A frown wrinkles Nuella’s smooth brow. “I’m aware your interpreting device has some difficulty with our language, Commander, but surely the information we transmitted to you was quite clear?”
“Clear?” He’s lost the thread of all this somewhere in the last few minutes, Chakotay decides, or maybe the last hours. There’s bound to be a rational explanation. “The information?”
“Yes. The briefing material we discussed with your ambassador, Mr Neelix, which detailed the Rite of Imprinting.”
“You mean Inscription.”
Nuella inclines her head. “I suppose that is one, rather literal, translation. It does lack nuance, however.”
Foreboding prickles the back of Chakotay’s neck. “What other nuances has our universal translator failed to detect, Ordanelle?”
The look she levels at him is shrewd, and she hesitates before speaking again.
“As I explained to Ambassador Neelix when we first ran the ritual wording through your computer, there is some leeway in how the ceremony can be interpreted. He did ask for clarification on several clauses, but I believe I managed to allay his concerns. After all,” she smiles, raising a cup of clear purple liquid to her lips, “the Rite of Imprinting can only forge a formal union between those who are not already intimately bonded. And that, Commander, is clearly not the case between you and your captain.”
Chakotay’s gaze strays across the table, caught and held for a moment by the ire that glints in Kathryn’s grey eyes. His stomach twists with apprehension and he places his utensils on the table, having lost his appetite completely.
“Excuse me, please, Ordanelle,” he mumbles. “I think I’d better contact Ambassador Neelix.”
Her attention is caught by the scrape of Chakotay’s chair against the floor, and Kathryn, who has been listening to Presider Hartani extol the virtues of the ubiquitous Ruaitan blackberry wine, glances up and frowns at her first officer’s retreating back.
Where the hell is he going? she fumes silently. If he thinks he can slip out of here without explaining himself –
“… not to your liking, Captain?”
“I’m sorry?” she tunes hastily back into Hartani’s enquiry.
The Ruaitan bends his head and asks her kindly, “Are you all right? You seem preoccupied.”
“I apologise, Presider,” she smiles, picking up her cup to give her hands something to do, “I must admit my thoughts wandered.”
“Thinking about your ship, no doubt,” he nods. “Anxious to complete the trades and be on your way.”
“We have a long journey ahead,” she answers cautiously. The presider’s eyes are shrewder than she’d noticed before.
“And you promised to get that crew of yours home. Yes. I can see they mean a lot to you.”
“I was a starship captain once, too. Would have done anything for my crew, just like you; given up anything I thought I should for their sake. Of course, they never asked me to do that. They only wanted me to be happy. It’s quite clear that your crew feel the same way about you.”
“They’re a good crew,” Kathryn says, wishing her blackberry drink was coffee, or perhaps whiskey.
“Yes. I enjoyed the time I spent with your Mr Neelix, and of course, Commander Tuvok.”
Kathryn frowns. “You mean Commander Chakotay.”
“No, Captain. Mr Chakotay greeted us at your transporter room, but Neelix and Tuvok were the ones who escorted us on our tour of your ship. And I believe it was Mr Neelix who worked with Ordanelle Nuella on translating the Rite of Imprinting for you and your husband.”
The glass almost slips from Kathryn’s hand. “My what?”
“Your husband,” Hartani repeats. “And I must compliment your crew on being most forthcoming in helping us determine the status of your bond with the commander.”
The planet tilts under Kathryn’s feet, and she puts her cup down with care. “Forthcoming how, exactly?”
“Well, to begin with,” Hartani says placidly, “your pilot described your frequent physical expressions of affection toward your mate –”
“Physical expressions…?” Kathryn’s voice is faint.
“To quote Mr Paris: ‘The captain often rests her hand on Chakotay’s chest, or touches his shoulder. Sometimes I’ve seen her touch his face or hold his hand.’ He did add that the commander does not touch you in the same manner or with the same frequency, but his opinion was that this was the commander’s way of demonstrating his professional respect for you.”
“Did Mr Paris have any other opinions to offer?” Kathryn grinds her teeth.
“None of note. However, Ambassador Neelix agreed with his statement, and pointed out that you and the commander dine together almost every night, that you take breakfast together when your shifts allow it, and that the commander’s replicator rations are frequently transferred to what he calls your ‘coffee account’.” The presider smiles at her. “Sharing of your worldly possessions is a common component of a strong and loving partnership. Wouldn’t you agree?”
Kathryn feels the colour draining from her face.
“And then, of course, there was Commander Tuvok’s opinion. Given his status as your oldest friend, it carried considerable weight in helping us determine the nature of your relationship with Mr Chakotay.”
She’s almost afraid to ask, but she has to know. “What exactly did Tuvok have to say?”
“He was quite eloquent, actually.” Hartani smiles. “He told us that you and the commander make most of your decisions together, that you rely on his experience and intuition, and that he offers you his unwavering support. He explained that you spend most of your time together on and off duty and never seem to tire of each other’s company. He said that you exhibit trust and faith in one another, and a devotion worthy of a lifelong pair bond. He likened your affiliation to his bond with his own wife, describing it as ‘a union of the deepest and most steadfast kind’. He said that in all his years serving among humans in Starfleet, he had rarely encountered the kind of love that you and Commander Chakotay have for each –”
“Stop.” The plea sticks in Kathryn’s throat. “Please, stop.”
The presider leans back in his chair and tilts his head, scrutinising her. “My dear captain, nothing Nuella and I have observed contradicts anything your crewmen told us. Had we any doubts about the nature of your connection, we would not have asked you to undertake the Rite of Imprinting; at least, not without directly explaining what the ritual would mean for you.”
Kathryn seizes on the only thing she can bear to challenge. “The Rite of Imprinting? I understood the term meant Inscription.”
Hartani’s smile widens. “I suspect that, by now, you’ve discovered the broader interpretation of the ritual.”
She slumps back in her seat. “You mean … it’s permanent?”
“Yes, Captain.” The presider gives her a sympathetic look. “You may not see it at the moment, but you are very fortunate. Most people live their entire lives without finding the one who completes them., but you spend your days beside yours.” He rests a hand on top of hers and lowers his voice. “Perhaps you’ll be wise enough to spend your nights with him as well.”
“You knew all along,” Kathryn realises slowly.
She bites down on her indignation. You wily old matchmaking goat! You’re as bad as that traitor, Tuvok.
And all morning I’ve been furious with Chakotay over something that isn’t even his fault.
“You knew we weren’t married, and you let us go through that ritual anyway,” she accuses. “Why?”
“A false tongue cannot hide the truth of the heart,” the presider replies, quoting the ritual words. “You swore the oath. You took the vows. That has always been true, and remains so.”
“And what does that mean, exactly?”
“It means that you and Commander Chakotay were bonded long ago in heart, mind and deed. The ritual simply shaped the words around that bond, and the marks you imprinted upon each other are the tangible evidence of two souls that will forever walk the same path.” Hartani pats her hand. “Congratulations on formalising your marriage, Captain.”