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.
All afternoon he’s been expecting a summons to her ready room for a lecture in Starfleet protocol – as if he needs one; he can probably recite the relevant clauses by heart – or at the very least, a cancellation of their standing dinner date.
Chakotay shifts in his chair on the bridge, his mood plummeting by the hour. If experience is anything to go by, the longer she waits to ream him out, the worse it’s going to be.
Finally, at end of shift, he turns the bridge over to Harry and trudges back to his quarters. She must be intending to shred him into tiny pieces over dinner, he decides, so he’d better not give her any more ammunition. He showers and dresses in a fresh uniform, makes sure his hair is tamed and his rank bar is perfectly straight, replicates a bottle of her favourite wine as a peace offering and marches to meet his fate.
“Come in,” the captain calls at his chime, and Chakotay steps cautiously into her living area.
He’d been bracing himself for lights at full, an unused replicator and a dining table covered in padds, at best, so he’s surprised to find the room illuminated mostly by candles, the sound of mellow jazz, and the aroma of something spicy permeating the air.
The captain turns from the replicator as he enters, a steaming dish in her hands. She’s still in uniform, but her jacket is unzipped and her hair tousled as though she’s been running her fingers through it.
She doesn’t glare, but her greeting isn’t exactly warm, either. “You know where the glasses are, Commander,” she remarks, nodding toward the bottle in his hand.
By the time Chakotay returns from the sideboard with two full glasses of merlot, the captain has shed her jacket and is ladling a fragrant casserole onto two plates.
“This looks wonderful,” he tries, waiting for her to sit before he does so himself. “I don’t think I’ve seen this recipe before.”
“That’s probably because I haven’t cooked it for you.”
Her eyes are steady and unreadable on his, and he jokes to allay his nerves. “Is this the part where I taste it first to make sure it isn’t poisoned?”
“Are you expecting me to poison you, Commander?” she responds immediately.
He tugs at his earlobe. “I’m not sure.”
“Sounds like the voice of a guilty conscience,” she parries, and sips her wine.
Chakotay decides silence is the wisest course of action, forking up a large mouthful to cover his unease.
He chews quickly and swallows. “Delicious,” he states, though he has no idea if it really is. The tightness in his throat makes the casserole taste like cardboard.
They eat in silence as Chakotay’s nerves stretch thinner and thinner. Eventually he can’t force down another morsel. He lays his fork on his plate and gulps his wine.
“Are you finished?”
He nods, offering, “Let me get the plates,” and he scoops up the dirty dishes – for once, Kathryn’s is emptier than his – and shoves them into the recycler.
When is she going to chew him out, and how bad will it be? Will he be facing the icy-eyed captain with her firm mouth and rigid spine, or – worse, so much worse – Kathryn, with liquid disappointment in her eyes and her voice shaking with wounded feelings?
Chakotay fiddles with the recycler controls as he breathes out his anxiety, and finally turns to face the music.
Kathryn is leaning against the edge of the table, arms crossed under her breasts, legs crossed at the ankle. She’s looking directly at him. He still can’t read her expression, but it doesn’t seem as though she’s intending to issue a formal reprimand or a tug on his heartstrings.
Nevertheless, he assumes the at-ease position and fixes his gaze on a point several centimetres above her head.
“So,” she drawls, “I had an extremely enlightening conversation with Presider Hartani this morning.”
“Captain?” he asks cautiously.
Kathryn pushes away from the table and stalks around him, her movements sinuous, deliberate. “Apparently,” she continues in a gravel voice, “my first officer saw fit to shirk his duty. An important duty that I assigned him.”
She’s directly behind him now. Chakotay shifts on his feet.
“You entrusted a crewman with the vital task of interpreting an alien cultural ritual, Commander,” she almost growls. “You are the executive officer of this ship and a trained anthropologist, and as such, you were doubly suited to perform this duty. And now, because of your unwillingness to shoulder your responsibilities, Voyager has become embroiled in a diplomatic incident. One that will have lasting effects.”
Chakotay frowns at that, but stays quiet.
Kathryn paces into his sightline, halting directly in front of him. Too close for his comfort.
“Well?” she demands. “Do you have anything to say for yourself?”
He straightens even further. “No, Captain.”
She steps even closer, right into his space. “Nothing at all?”
Silence. He can feel her eyes on him, searching his face as he struggles to remain impassive and his nerves stretch so taut he’s afraid they’ll snap –
“Oh for God’s sake, Chakotay, you look as if you’re awaiting your execution.”
The bubbling laughter in her tone makes his eyes snap down to hers.
Damn, he realises suddenly. She played me.
“Am I really that terrifying?” she smirks at him, cocking a hip.
Well, two could play that game.
“Terrifying?” he asks, as if he’s seriously considering the question. “I wouldn’t go that far. Intimidating, yes. Authoritative.”
She raises an eyebrow.
“Imperious,” he tests. “Maybe even dictatorial.”
Her smile falters a little.
“On occasion, some might even say … tyrannical,” Chakotay pushes.
Kathryn’s mouth drops open, and she looks so outraged that he can’t hold in his laughter.
“Oh, you –” she breaks off, planting her hands on her hips, a lop-sided smile softening her lips. “All right, well played, Commander. Come on,” and she moves toward the couch, patting the seat beside her. “We have a few things to talk about.”
Kathryn toes off her boots and socks, curling her feet beneath her on the couch and watching Chakotay as he sheds his jacket and settles beside her. He looks a hell of a lot more at ease than he had when he entered her quarters tonight, she reflects, grinning to herself. She’d teased him partly as payback for that damned ritual, but mostly so that she could watch his shoulders relax and his dimples appear.
Still, the situation is serious and she shouldn’t make light of it.
“Why did you assign the translation to Neelix?”
“He volunteered.” Chakotay passes a hand over his face, chagrined. “I’m sorry, Captain. He did try to contact me several times to discuss what he called ‘interesting developments’, but I was so busy that I palmed him off on Tuvok.”
“Yes,” Kathryn mutters darkly, “Tuvok. His interpretation of the ritual was rather watered-down, wasn’t it?”
Wisely, Chakotay says nothing.
Sighing, Kathryn taps her combadge. “Janeway to Neelix.”
~Neelix here, Captain.~
“Mr Neelix, it’s come to my attention that you were responsible for interpreting the Ruaitan documents regarding the Rite of Inscription. Would you care to detail your analysis of the ritual?”
~Ah, ah, well, Captain …~
“Neelix,” she cuts through his bluster. “Explain.”
There’s a lengthy pause, then, ~Captain, I’m sorry. My reading of the text seemed to indicate that it was some kind of, uh, bonding ritual. Of course I realised I must be mistaken, so I asked Mr Tuvok to examine it. He interpreted the ritual quite differently, and given his experience with such things I deferred to his judgement.~
“I see. Thank you, Neelix. Janeway out.”
She presses her lips together, thinking, then opens a new channel.
“Janeway to Tuvok.”
“Please clarify your understanding of the Ruaitan ritual Mr Chakotay and I undertook yesterday, Commander.”
~Of course, Captain. I interpreted it as a ceremonial demonstration of trust and comradeship intended to forge an alliance between species.~
“Yes, so you said earlier when you assured me that the ritual was purely a formality.”
“That is correct, Captain,~ answers Tuvok. ~As you are aware, such formalities are not an uncommon occurrence during diplomatic first contact situations.~
“Perhaps not,” Kathryn grinds out. “However, it’s come to my attention that the ritual can also be interpreted as a …” she falters, “a marriage rite.”
~The Ruaitan language is infinitely diverse and nuanced, and in this instance I applied the most diplomatic and logical interpretation of the ritual,~ Tuvok responds smoothly. ~However, you are correct Captain. A marriage rite is one possible analysis of the text, though my understanding is that the applicable circumstances would have to be unique.~
Kathryn clenches her teeth, staring at the ceiling to gather her patience. “And is that analysis applicable in our unique circumstances?”
For the first time, Tuvok pauses, then, ~Yes, Captain. It is.~
Kathryn’s shoulders slump.
~Furthermore,~ Tuvok continues, apparently having decided that further dissembling would be pointless, ~I took the liberty of investigating the legitimacy of this ritual under Federation law. As with most bonding ceremonies undertaken on alien soil by participants in their right minds and of their own free will, the contract stands.~ He pauses. ~Captain, Commander, allow me to be the first to offer felicitations on your marriage. It has been, as humans say, a long time coming.~
Kathryn swallows hard.
“Actually, Tuvok,” she forces out, “you’re not the first. But we appreciate the sentiment. Janeway out.”
Silence echoes in the room.
Finally, Chakotay touches a hand to her knee and ventures, “Captain? Are you all right?”
Shaking him off, Kathryn pushes restlessly to her feet and begins to pace. “We have to figure out how to handle this,” she declares. “Clearly, it’s an impossible situation. There must be some way around the regulations.”
Chakotay rises to stand beside the couch. “Tuvok seems to think it’s watertight,” he points out carefully.
“But if we didn’t go into it knowingly …” She gesticulates wildly. “Perhaps we can petition the Ruaitans for a formal dissolution on the grounds that we didn’t understand what we were getting into.”
Chakotay raises his eyebrows. “We had our ambassador and second officer approve the ritual, Captain. And we both took the oath. I expect the Ruaitans would claim that we knew exactly what we were getting into.”
“Oh God,” she groans, “what a snafu. Why on earth did you trust those two incompetent idiots to handle this, Chakotay?”
A frown pinches his forehead. “So this is all my fault?”
“I suppose I have to accept some of the blame too. I did agree to that damned ritual against my better judgement.” Kathryn runs a hand through her hair, slowing to a stop in front of him, then gazes up in despair. “What are we going to do about this? Could we find some kind of contractual loophole Tuvok hasn’t considered?”
She looks up at him pleadingly, and is surprised to find his jaw tight and his eyes dark with ire.
“What’s the matter?” she asks him.
“Is the idea of being my wife really so offensive to you, Kathryn?”
Stunned into silence, she can only stare at him.
Chakotay huffs out a breath, hands resting on his hips. “You’re in a state of panic at the mere thought of us being bonded,” he points out. “Why? Do I embarrass you? Is it against your damned protocols, or do I just disgust you?”
“Chakotay,” she breathes. “God, no, you don’t – Of course n- I didn’t m-”
Before she can finish even one of her broken sentences, Chakotay breaches the space between them in one stride, wraps one arm around her waist, grasps her face in his other hand and tilts it upward, his mouth descending on hers.
She gasps, and he takes advantage of her parted lips to slide his tongue inside to wrap around hers. For a moment she stiffens and debates shoving him away – how dare he grab her like this! – but then the hand at her waist flattens across her back to tug her against his body, and his lips soften and nudge at hers, and her breath catches in her throat at the way he’s simultaneously so possessive and so gentle.
When his thigh pushes between hers and she moans and wraps her arms around his neck, she gives up all pretence of reluctance. Pressing closer, she kisses him back with every ounce of the longing she’s been suppressing since they met, since they became almost-lovers on a faraway planet, since that very morning when they finally made love and she looked at him and wanted so much more.
Eventually, he eases back, nuzzling his lips across her cheek before he raises his head to look at her. His eyes are soft, and she can only imagine the expression in her own.
“Obviously, the bonding ritual was a misunderstanding,” he says, his voice gravelly. “But I don’t think I’m reading anything into that kiss that wasn’t there.”
Kathryn swallows hard. “No, I don’t suppose you are.”
“Not disgusting, then,” he teases her, one dimple appearing.
She shakes her head slowly, a smile breaking over her own face. “Quite the opposite of disgusting.”
“And I don’t embarrass you?” He presses his lips to her temple.
Kathryn tightens her arms around his neck. “Starfleet captains don’t embarrass easily.”
“Ah,” he murmurs. “Then it must be protocol that’s stopping you from admitting how you feel about me.”
“How I feel –” She pulls back a little, but Chakotay’s arms tighten.
“Don’t go denying it.” He dips his forehead to hers. “I wouldn’t believe you, anyway.”
She huffs out a laugh. “You’re insubordinate.”
“You love me for it.”
“Yes, I do.”
“Good,” he says. “I love you, too.”
“With pleasure,” Chakotay grins, sweeping her up into his arms and striding in the direction of her bedroom.
He sets her on her feet beside the bed. She moves to divest him of his undershirt, but Chakotay shakes his head, catching her hands. “My turn first,” he tells her, and Kathryn bites her lower lip and nods.
He takes his time, unveiling small portions of her skin and following the shed fabric with kisses, fixing in his memory the places where his touch makes her squirm or shiver or gasp. When she’s naked he shucks his own uniform quickly and grins at her expression of mock outrage, but before she can protest he kisses her, stroking a palm down her back and tangling his fingers gently in her hair, nipping along the line of her jaw until she sighs and melts against him, all objections forgotten.
His one regret about the way they’d come together in the early morning was that it was over so quickly, so this time he’s determined to make it last. Her impatient moans when he sucks her nipple into his mouth don’t sway him, nor the way she pleads when he kisses along her inner thighs, or when she grabs handfuls of his hair as he licks at her slowly, lavishly.
She gets her own back, of course, wrestling him onto his back and climbing astride him, working her way down his chest and stomach and resisting his half-hearted attempts to stop her as she takes him in her mouth. Only when his pleas grow ragged and desperate does she relent, sliding upward until she can straddle his hips and take him deep inside her, rocking against him, winding her fingers through his and leaning close to kiss him as he thrusts upward slowly, powerfully.
Her orgasm is the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen: the way her body grows taut, her mouth drops open and her eyes half-close, the catch in her breath and her near-silent, shuddering moan. He staves off his own climax until she collapses onto his chest, then lets go with a shout that sounds like her name.
Kathryn kisses him lazily, messily, then shifts off him and onto her side. He watches with renewed interest as she stretches, her body languid and warm.
She catches him staring.
“Hey,” she says softly, then smirks. “I’m starving. Be a good husband and get me something to eat, will you?”
Chakotay snorts out a laugh. “What does my wife desire?”
Kathryn shrugs nonchalantly, rolling onto her stomach. “Surprise me.”
He gets out of bed and turns back to admire her, stretched out across the sheets, naked and creamy-skinned and –
“Kathryn,” he says, “there’s something on your back …”
He leans over to trace the silvery whorls and curlicues glinting on her skin, his fingertip following the three joined circles down the centre of her spine.
“This is the design I painted on you last night,” Chakotay realises.
Kathryn looks over her shoulder at him and he can’t quite read her expression. “Yes,” she says, “it is.”
“Why hasn’t it washed off?”
She sits up, pulling the sheet around her torso and looking chagrined. “You really haven’t studied that Ruaitan text very closely, have you, Chakotay?”
“Okay,” she mumbles, looking up from under her lashes. “Well, it seems the ritual has more than one unexpected outcome. Presider Hartani explained it to me this morning.”
“I’m listening,” he prompts as she trails off.
“I’m told that if the Ruaitan delegation to Voyager had determined we – you and I – were not a couple, we wouldn’t have been asked to undergo the ritual,” she begins. “It was our crew’s answers to their questions that convinced the delegates we were already bonded.”
His eyebrows shoot up. “How so?”
Kathryn waves her hand. “Apparently we behave just as a Ruaitan married couple does: we spend all our free time together, we share responsibilities and possessions and decisions, you’re the only person who calls me by my given name… And Tom Paris was quite vocal about how much I touch you.”
“You did say you thought all of this was somehow his fault,” Chakotay can’t help grinning.
“Right,” she mutters. “But it was Tuvok’s testimony that truly convinced them. According to him, we have the kind of bond that he has with T’Pel.”
She looks shy, and Chakotay reaches for her hand, winding his fingers into hers. It makes her smile.
“In any case,” she continues, “the ritual participants are supposed to be already officially married, and if they aren’t, the rite becomes the formal expression of that bond. But in rare cases, it not only bonds a couple, it also imprints them.”
“The ink paintings,” she waves a hand. “The Rite of Inscription is one translation of the text. The Rite of Imprinting is another. We’re not just wearing pretty painted designs that will wash off or fade away, Chakotay. You and I each painted the same design on one another.”
“We did, huh?”
He narrows his eyes. “What aren’t you telling me?”
She starts to blush.
“Hartani also said that when the bond is … consummated … for the first time, the design becomes … indelible.” Kathryn takes another breath. “It’s a good thing you like tattoos, Chakotay, because you just got another one.”
He stares at her, trying to work out if she’s joking. “These are permanent.”
“They’re not going away.”
Realising she’s serious, he starts to laugh.
She glares at him, clutching the sheet indignantly to her chest. “This is funny to you?”
“Oh Kathryn,” he snorts, pulling her into his arms and burying his face in her hair. “You know, if you wanted to wear my mark there are less permanent ways to do it.”
Kathryn pulls back far enough to raise an eyebrow at him. “Are you telling me you want a divorce?”
“I don’t ever want to hear that word from your lips again,” Chakotay says, and kisses her before she can offer up that word or any other.
“Do you know what it is?”
Of course he did.
But just to be absolutely certain, he gently grasped it around its edges and turned it slowly, committing to memory in an instant each of the symbols carved on its edges.
Two spirits joined as one.
And above them all, the symbol his forefathers had used to identify love.
But not just any love. This symbol of three connected circles was reserved for the kind of love shared between two people who had made the irrevocable choice to bind their lives together in a permanent committed relationship.
- Isabo’s Shirt, Kirsten Beyer