Summary: A diplomatic ritual goes spectacularly awry when Janeway finds herself breathless in more ways than one.
Characters: Janeway, Chakotay
Disclaimer: If Paramount wants to claim this, they’re welcome to it.
Notes: Set lateish in Season 3.
She bends fractionally from the waist, her fingers clenching on the edge of the vanity table as Leda, the Latavine maidservant, tugs with controlled strength at her stays. Her breath hitches slightly as the corset tightens around her ribcage, constricting her lungs, pushing her breasts upward. She catches sight of herself in the mirror and sees that her lips are parted, her eyes half-lidded.
She remembers dressing for her holonovel last week, the first time she’d activated it since the Bothan attack. She’d dressed inside the holodeck that time, not wanting the crew to see her walking through Voyager’s corridors in the full skirts and elaborate hairstyle the program required. She had thought it wasn’t strictly captainly; hadn’t wanted the crew to catch a glimpse into her entertainment preferences, and by extension her private life.
She wonders if this is a moot point now.
The dress she wore to play the Victorian-era governess in her holoprogram was far more modest than the one laid over the love-seat in this chamber – the one she will put on when Leda and Ilona have finished lacing her into her undergarment. When the holographic maid had dressed her, yanking the corset as tight as the holodeck safeties would allow, she’d felt an unexpected frisson, a rush of blood to parts of her she usually tries not to think about. She’d put it down to anticipation at running the program, but she remembers how the Lord Burleigh character had kissed her, how she’d responded, and she wonders now if that frisson and her eager reaction to the kiss had been connected.
Because right now, as Leda pulls the laces tighter, ever tighter, she cannot deny that she is hopelessly aroused.
It’s almost laughable, really, the rituals she’s required to satisfy in order to establish trading relations with the Latavine.
Chakotay finds them fascinating: a warp-capable, technologically advanced society obsessed with anachronistic social customs. B’Elanna takes immediately against them, and Kathryn understands why: the Latavine are intrigued, in a slightly scandalised way, that Voyager’s captain and chief engineer are both female. Such a thing would not happen in Latavan society, where women of the working class hold roles such as teacher, nurse or servant. No Latavine woman would sully her hands with engine grease, and no Latavine woman would ever be considered capable of a leadership role.
But Kathryn, fond as she is of her gothic romances, can also admit – if only to herself – that she’s not immune to Latavan’s appeal. Women may be shepherded into the kind of gender roles human society long ago abandoned, but they are also valued, even treasured. Rape and domestic violence are almost unheard-of on Latavan, and not only because the punishment for either offence is a death so drawn-out, so torturous a Cardassian might blanch at inflicting it, but because the Latavine genuinely believe their women are to be protected at all costs, indulged, even adored. Kathryn doesn’t need or want protecting and indulgence isn’t in her nature, but she has to concede that she’s somewhat susceptible to the charms of adoration.
When the Latavine Chancellor first answered Voyager’s hail, he addressed his greetings to Chakotay. Her first officer understood before Kathryn did, and quietly positioned himself behind her shoulder, smilingly deflecting the Chancellor’s enquiries to her. To give the Chancellor credit, he recovered quickly, and a matter of hours later Kathryn, accompanied by Tuvok, finds herself perched on a velvet-covered chair in a palatial hall, drinking sweet spiced tea and listening to the Chancellor outline the first contact ritual.
“Three nights?” she repeats, somewhat faintly.
She has endured unusual first contacts before. The Kishla were particularly memorable; an arachnoid species, they had refused Voyager passage through their space until the blood, sweat and tears of a representative of each race on the ship had been thoroughly sampled and catalogued – literally. Kathryn had firmly volunteered to represent humanity. Fortunately for her, the Kishla had found Bolian and Talaxian secretions more intriguing than human, and had spent little time on her. What the Chancellor is describing is nowhere near as bizarre as the Kishla’s ritual, although she suspects it could prove disquieting in an entirely different way.
Still, three nights out of her comfort zone is a small price to pay for several weeks of peaceful travel, and so she agrees.
Leda, finally satisfied, ties off the laces and helps Kathryn to balance as Ilona carries over the dress. Kathryn steps into it carefully, feeling the heavy nap of the velvet caress her breasts over the thin chemise, feeling the bodice hug her corseted ribs as Ilona buttons it along her spine. Leda reaches up under the skirts to tug down the hem of her chemise, smooths her hands over the bodice, twitches the skirts into place.
They guide her to sit before the mirror, where Ilona curls and piles up her hair as Leda dusts her face with powder and paints her lips a soft pink. When they’ve finished they help her step into a pair of low-heeled shoes. Kathryn picks up her commbadge, wondering self-consciously if there’s actually enough fabric to fix it to her bodice, but Ilona shakes her head and hides it in a fold of her skirt instead. Despite herself, Kathryn admits her dressing-maids are right not to mar their careful work with Starfleet technology.
Ilona opens the door, gesturing for her to follow, and Kathryn gathers her skirts in her hands and steps into the hallway. The muffled tap of her heels on the inlaid wooden floor is out of time with the accelerated beat of her pulse. She tries to breathe deeply to calm herself but the constriction of her corset forces her to sip air rather than drink it. Her head feels light from insufficient oxygen. She tries to ignore the way it seems to heighten other sensations: the firm, unyielding pressure of the boning against her ribs, the weight and heft of her skirts along her thighs, the rub of velvet on her otherwise almost naked breasts.
They reach a pair of tall, imposing doors, carved and inlaid with a design Kathryn studies to give herself focus, then wishes she hadn’t as the images depicted can only be described as bacchanalian. She’s still blushing when the doors swing inward and her handmaids fade into the corridor.
She steps in, and the flourish of trumpets that accompanies the announcement of her presence embarrasses her deeply, though she hopes she’s managed not to show it. Chancellor Jarin bows low in front of her and she dips him the curtsey Ilona made her practice in the dressing room. Then the Chancellor offers his arm and she takes it, letting him lead her to the banquet table.
“The Latavine protocols are exacting, Captain,” Tuvok says, folding his hands and regarding her from the other side of her ready room desk. “Chancellor Jarin has advised me that the greeting ritual dates back several centuries and failure to follow it completely will cause great offence.”
Kathryn rubs at her forehead and puts down the PADD she’s been studying with a sigh. “I’ve been through strange first contacts before, Tuvok, but I have to admit this one is a little unsettling. Still, what choice do I have? We need their pergium, and there’s no other source of it for light years around.”
He regards her for a moment, then asks, “Would you consider it less unsettling if I took Commander Chakotay’s place?”
She looks up at him sharply, considers pretending not to understand, thinks better of it and can’t help smiling. “The rules are clear, aren’t they? Only the highest-ranking officers will be acceptable to the Latavine.”
“Our rules are also clear,” Tuvok responds. “The absence of the command team from the ship for three days and nights contravenes Starfleet protocols.”
“We’re orbiting a friendly planet,” she counters. “As long as we comply with Latavan conventions, we’re safe.” She pushes back from the desk and moves up to her sitting area to stare out at the planet below. Tuvok follows silently and she glances back at him. “Don’t worry, Tuvok. I’ll make sure I’m adequately prepared. And besides, it’s not like we’re walking into a pit of vipers. Chakotay and I are honoured guests; we’ll be wined, dined and treated with deference. How bad can it be?”
The slight quirk of Tuvok’s eyebrow tells her that her feigned nonchalance hasn’t fooled him one bit.
Of the senior staff, only B’Elanna and Tuvok have declined the Latavine’s invitation to the banquet – Tuvok has opted to take bridge duty and Chakotay claims B’Elanna’s reaction is too impolite to repeat to the Captain. About half the crew are here as well; Kathryn glances around, finding it strange to see her officers dressed in gowns and frock-coats instead of uniforms. She smiles as Kes and Neelix approach. Neelix looks like a rainbow trout in his rich brocade waistcoat. She notices that the blush-pink gown Kes wears is considerably less revealing than her own, and wishes briefly that she had a shawl to cover her exposed décolletage. She catches sight of Tom, sees his eyes widen when he takes in her appearance, feels the flush rise over her chest and turns away.
The Chancellor helps her to her seat at the small round table, raised slightly at the head of the room. As his honoured guest, she takes the place at his right. His wife, Savia, sits on his other side, next to Chakotay, who’s engaged in conversation with Savia when Kathryn slides into her seat to his left. Jarin explains the ritual of the banquet again. Kathryn finds it no less unnerving upon repetition, and as disquieting as the ceremony is going to be tonight, she knows it’s only going to get worse.
A bell chimes, and Savia breaks off from talking to Chakotay and stands, raising her arms to the room. “Nobles of Latavan, I greet you,” she intones. “Honoured guests, I greet you. It is not often we of Latavan are graced with visitors from other worlds. We welcome you, Voyagers, and invite you to partake of our world’s bounty.” She claps her hands twice, sharply. “Let us begin,” she calls, and the banquet hall fills with the sounds of polite applause, muting into conversation. She sits, and Chakotay turns to Kathryn for the first time.
He starts to smile, and then he registers the exposed length of her neck below her elaborately piled-up hair, the way her breasts almost spill over the cinched velvet bodice, and his smile disappears. She’s trapped by the fierce hunger in his eyes, feels her breath catch in her throat. She hasn’t seen him look at her like this since she stood on an idyllic planet, wrapped in a towel with droplets glistening on her bare shoulders. Her face heats up. She wants to run from the room, hide under the table, reach for him and pull him hard against her. Her fingers tighten on her napkin and she wishes, oh, she wishes she was anywhere but here.
“Sit down, Chakotay.”
She waves him to the couch, waits until he sits, hands him the PADD and deliberately takes the single chair rather than sit beside him. “Read it,” she invites him, and watches him surreptitiously as he does. There’s a flash of surprise when, she assumes, he gets to the part that made her inhale sharply on first reading, and then he carefully schools his face blank. Apart from another brief tightening of his jaw, he remains impassive until he finishes and looks up at her.
“Well?” she says impatiently when he remains silent. “What do you think?”
He puts the PADD on the coffee table. “About what, exactly?” he asks carefully.
Kathryn gestures to the PADD in irritation. “Don’t be coy, Commander.”
He looks down to hide it, but she can see his dimples appear. “If you’re asking me if I mind the idea of you serving me, then, no, Captain. I don’t mind at all.”
She wants to slap the smirk right off his face.
“And in a way,” he adds, not even trying to hide the grin now, “it answers a question I asked you some time ago.”
She frowns in confusion, then realises what he’s referring to and glares at him.
Chakotay laughs, then takes pity on her. “It’s an unusual first contact situation, Captain, but we’ve had worse. I’m sure we’re both professional enough to handle it.”
“I’m sure we are.” Kathryn stands briskly and moves toward the replicator. “Report to Transporter Room Two at 1800 hours, Commander. The Latavine have asked you to arrive early in order to prepare you for the banquet. The senior staff and the other crewmembers who’ll be attending the banquet will be there half an hour later.”
“Including you, Captain?” Chakotay unfolds himself from the couch, heading past her toward the door.
Kathryn turns from the replicator, cradling her coffee. “No. I’ve been asked to arrive at 1700.” She scowls. “Apparently my appearance requires special attention.”
Chakotay’s grin broadens again. “Then I very much look forward to your appearance, Kathryn,” he says smoothly as he exits onto the bridge.
As he looks at her now, Kathryn allows herself a small moment to enjoy the way that smile has been wiped completely off his face. But then a server places a carafe of dark-red wine on the table and Savia rises, nodding slightly to Kathryn, and she can’t help the double-thump of her pulse as she understands the ritual is about to begin.
She watches carefully as Savia moves to Jarin’s left, pours some wine into his glass, then kneels beside his chair and holds the glass up to him. Jarin takes it, sips, puts down the glass and briefly brushes his fingertips over Savia’s cheek before she returns to her seat.
It’s fine, Kathryn thinks as she rises to fill Chakotay’s glass. It’s nothing but a ritual. She drops to her knees and offers up the glass, avoiding his eye. He takes it, drinks, and she feels the light touch of his fingers on her cheekbone and shivers despite herself. “Thank you,” she hears him whisper. She slides back into her chair, not looking at him. Savia smiles at her and she tries to smile back.
The server reappears, filling the women’s wineglasses and placing a dish of Latavine canapés in the centre of the table. Kathryn studies them: small, round pieces of what look like rye bread, topped with some kind of mousse and a sliver of something green she assumes is a herb. She watches Chakotay whisper an enquiry to Savia, who explains that the mousse is made from a native root, and that there will be fish courses offered throughout the banquet, but no meat. He straightens in relief and Kathryn realises he’s been worried he’ll be forced to choose between offending the Latavine by refusing their food and going against his own beliefs. She sends him a quick reassuring smile.
Savia gets up from her chair again, picks up a pair of tongs and deftly manoeuvres a canapé onto a small plate. She holds the plate on flattened palms, curtseying deeply as she offers it to Jarin. He takes it and slides his fingers along her jawline. Kathryn clenches her fingers briefly below the table, then stands to copy her.
Her hands are shaking slightly, but she manages to manipulate the tongs to place the appetiser on Chakotay’s plate. As she curtseys to him, holding the plate before her, she can’t help but wonder what her crew are making of this performance. She knows there have been rumours about her and her XO since their return from the quarantine planet several months ago, and tonight is hardly going to dampen them. The thought makes her falter and she almost drops the plate before Chakotay has hold of it.
“All right?” he whispers. She meets his gaze and reads concern, a little wariness, and something else, carefully-shielded. She nods, and watches without flinching as his hand comes up to her face. She feels his thumb stroke along her jaw and closes her eyes briefly. This is nothing, she reminds herself. You can handle it.
She barely tastes her canapé; barely remembers eating it, or any of the courses that follow. What she does remember, too vividly, is each and every part of the ritual. A curtsey, a dip of her head, an offering, followed by a touch on her face, her collarbone, her shoulder. By the end of the meal she’s trembling, her skin over-sensitised from each brief caress. She catches Chakotay’s eyes and sees barely-contained heat reflected back at her.
Then Savia stands and claps her hands again. “Nobles of Latavan, honoured guests; we thank the gods of bounty for this feast. In accordance with tradition, we now begin the jasalin.”
Kathryn has watched the holovid and studied the steps; she has a dancer’s training, and she knows from a comment B’Elanna once made that Chakotay is no slouch on the dance floor. On paper, the jasalin is sedate and courtly. But as Kathryn watched the vid, she took note of the brushing of hands, the clasping of waists during the turns, and she began to suspect that behind its demure façade, the jasalin is nothing more than a mating ritual.
She takes a moment, finally, to really look at him as he stands to lead her to the dance floor. He wears the white cravat, long brocade frock-coat and breeches the other men are wearing, but the genteel elegance of his clothing contrasts with his broad shoulders, his dark skin and tattoo to make him look ever so slightly feral. Although, she reasons, that could be because of the way he’s looking at her. She tries to even out her breathing as her gaze slides away.
They follow Savia and Jarin to the parqueted centre of the floor where a number of other couples will eventually join them after the first dance. Kathryn moves opposite Chakotay and glances at Savia, imitating her position – a bowed head, a slightly bent knee, the fingers of one hand holding out her skirts. The music begins and Kathryn starts in surprise; she’d expected something light and lilting, but this is dark and smooth, an oboe-like instrument carrying the melody and duelling with something stringed like a cello, and beneath it all an almost tribal drumbeat. Then Savia begins to move, stalking in a measured circle around Jarin, and Kathryn copies her, letting the music guide her movements as she circles Chakotay.
She remembers the steps of the dance without needing to watch the other couple, but glancing at them gives her sufficient reason to avoid locking gazes with Chakotay, and she needs that. She’s afraid, as the hypnotic drumbeat guides her steps, as the slide of his palm against her waist heats her blood, that if she looks at him she’ll forget everything else. She needs to remember why she’s here. She needs to remember that she’s being observed. Most of all, she needs to remember who she is, and who he is, and why this night, this dance, is so dangerous.
“I was impressed with your performance of the jasalin, Captain,” Jarin tells her as he ushers her to a seat beside the large picture window. His office is three times the size of her ready room, the windows open to let in the warm, lazy breeze, and Kathryn feels the tense knot at the back of her neck begin to loosen for the first time since waking. “You and your first officer barely missed a step. Did you practice, or is everyone from your species naturally gifted at dancing?”
“Neither,” Kathryn has to admit. “I learned to dance as a child, and I studied the holovid you sent me. I assume Commander Chakotay did as well.”
Jarin’s eyebrows arch over the mug of sincha. “Really,” he says, mildly. “My wife was certain that the pair of you were longtime dance partners.”
“Why’s that?” Kathryn asks politely. She sips the sincha and finds it pleasant, though she’d kill for a cup of coffee.
Jarin doesn’t answer, and Kathryn looks up to find him watching her, his expression slightly guarded. “Perhaps it’s not my place to comment,” he says eventually.
She wants to press for an answer but suspects it might not be one she’s prepared to hear, and so she gives him her diplomatic smile and picks up the PADD. “I understand you’re interested in Voyager’s deflector design,” she begins, and they spend the next hour in negotiation until Savia sweeps through the office doors, Chakotay in her wake.
“Captain Janeway, good morning,” Savia smiles, dipping into a half-curtsey. Unlike her husband, who wears a simple, much more modern-looking suit than the gilded finery of the night before, Savia is dressed in lace and silks, her skirts full and her hair elaborately dressed. Beside her, Kathryn feels frumpy in her uniform. She ignores the sour feeling in her stomach as Savia casually winds her arm through Chakotay’s. “Your first officer has been indulging my curiosity about you,” Savia confides.
“About me?” Kathryn tries to keep her voice light. Savia is perfectly friendly, but her conspiratorial smile sets Kathryn’s teeth on edge. She tells herself it’s because she’s been interrupted at a delicate stage of the trade negotiations, because she’s uncomfortable with being talked about, because she’s never been good at girl talk; but she catches Chakotay looking at her, amusement dancing behind the blandness in his eyes, and in that instant she’s honest enough to acknowledge that it’s because she does not like the way that woman is pawing him. She averts her eyes before he sees the truth in them.
Savia prattles on about Kathryn’s decision to strand her people and Chakotay’s in the Delta quadrant, to merge two crews into one, to give the man she’d been sent to arrest a position of power on her ship. “It’s such a romantic thing to do,” she sighs, and Kathryn, whose attention has been wandering, snaps back to the conversation.
“It was a decision born of practicality,” she corrects.
“And yet it required trust, and a courageous heart.” Savia’s smile is shrewd, and Kathryn abruptly reassesses her impression of the woman. “There’s nothing more romantic than that.”
After last night, this is not the conversation Kathryn wants to be having. She offers Savia a closed-mouth smile. “Commander Chakotay has always proven himself trustworthy. He’s the best first officer I could have asked for.”
“He certainly is devoted to his Captain,” Savia says sweetly, turning slightly toward Chakotay, resting her hand on his chest. Kathryn feels the tension creeping back into her neck.
Chakotay takes a polite step sideways, his smile a little tight. Irritated, Kathryn retorts, “Voyager couldn’t have come this far without Chakotay. And neither could I,” and realises immediately that she’s made a tactical error when Savia’s smile widens.
“I can see the two of you have a very special relationship,” Savia answers silkily. “It certainly was in evidence last night.”
His fingers slide down the length of her arm as she turns, and she tries to concentrate on placing one foot in front of the other as her hand trails over his shoulders. She completes her circuit and faces him, moving in close, her leg sliding between his as their hips mould together. She catches sight of Savia’s amused eyebrow and quickly looks away. I’m performing their damned dance, she thinks irritably, what more does the woman want?
She feels Chakotay’s grip tighten slightly on her waist, pressing against the boned corset, and can’t help the shiver that runs through her. The pulse of the drumbeat slows and, realising the dance is almost over, she allows herself a small sigh of gratitude. She moves away from him, only their fingertips touching as she dips into a curtsey. He bows, and she sees an echo of her own relief in his eyes as he straightens. The music stops.
Beside them, Savia and Jarin are pressed together, she bent slightly backward from the waist, his mouth touching her collarbone. Kathryn glances at Chakotay, perturbed. That wasn’t in the holovid.
The other couple move apart, straightening into the conventional form Kathryn and Chakotay have taken, and the watching crowd applauds. “Don’t worry, Captain,” Savia whispers as she takes Kathryn’s hand and leads her back to their table. “You didn’t miss a step. I just can’t resist a little improvisation.” She waits until Kathryn has reached for her glass of water before she adds, “Of course, tomorrow night, you’ll be expected to follow every move Jarin and I make.”
Kathryn chokes on her water.
“Not that I think you, or your handsome partner, will mind,” Savia finishes with a disingenuous smile as she sips her wine.
After the banquet, after the jasalin, after she judges diplomacy has been satisfied, she returns to her room, desperate to regain her equilibrium by burying herself in ship’s reports until her eyes grow too heavy to fight off sleep. It hasn’t occurred to her that she’d need help undressing, but Leda and Ilona are waiting for her. Her hair is unwound, her high shoes removed; Ilona holds her arms for balance as Kathryn steps out of the long velvet dress. Then begins the lengthy task of unlacing the corset, and Leda pulls the chemise over her head and smooths a cream that smells like jasmine into her skin. She shrinks back at first, but Leda explains that the cream will soothe her where the boning pressed into her skin, and she hesitates only briefly before acquiescing. She stands naked before the mirror, watching as Leda’s strong hands stroke over her ribs and hips. The other woman’s touch doesn’t linger anywhere, and yet Kathryn finds herself moving against her hands, her back arching as Leda’s fingers slide up under her breasts. In the state she’s in, the state she’s been in all evening, it’s maddening.
Leda twists the lid back onto the bottle of cream and Ilona gives her a fresh chemise to wear to bed, as thin and translucent as the one she wore under her corset, and the two maids leave her alone. She curls up on the window seat with a PADD and tries to concentrate on Tuvok’s security report, but it’s pointless, so she gives up and climbs into bed.
Hours later, she throws off the sheet and turns onto her stomach, burying her face in the pillow to stifle her groan. She’d like to blame the Latavine wine for the flush in her cheeks, the energy sparking through her body, but she’s not quite that self-deluded. She thinks of the brush of his hand against her bare shoulder, the heated look in his eyes, the way he felt moving against her as they danced, and it’s all she can do not to touch herself.
It’s not until the early hours that she finally falls into a fitful, restless sleep.