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 makes her excuses after the morning’s negotiations with Jarin and escapes to her ship. In her ready room, surrounded by all the reminders of who she is and what she stands for, she breathes deeply for the first time since last night. A conversation with Tuvok and two cups of coffee later, her equilibrium has been restored.
The chime at her door lays it all to waste.
“Enter,” she calls, and Chakotay walks in carrying a PADD.
“Captain,” he acknowledges her. She waves him to the seat opposite her at her desk and he sits.
She takes the PADD he holds out to her and skims his report; he’s negotiated with Savia for the entire crew to each take three days’ shore leave over the course of the next week. “Nicely done, Commander,” she compliments him. “I hope you’ll be taking some leave for yourself.”
“I was hoping to,” he answers. “Savia offered to show me around their cultural museum.”
“You certainly seem to have bonded with her.” Kathryn instantly regrets the waspish tone in her voice.
Chakotay gives her an even look. “You did order me to help you establish diplomatic relations, Captain.”
She ignores him, pretending to read his report.
“As far as alien cultures go,” he says eventually, “I have to admit this is one diplomatic venture I’m enjoying.”
“Apparently so,” she says blandly. She glances briefly at him, just quick enough to see his dimpled smirk before he ducks his head.
“I wasn’t talking about spending time with the Chancellor’s wife,” he says. “I’m talking about the evening ceremonies.”
She makes a non-committal noise.
“Savia did tell me something interesting this morning,” he says casually. “Apparently the banquet and the performance of the jasalin develop over the course of the diplomatic ritual.”
Kathryn finally puts down the PADD and pays attention. “Develop? How, exactly?”
“Well.” Chakotay tugs at his ear. “Let’s just say that for the Latavine, pleasure is an integral part of their society, and they believe that diplomatic relations tend to be more successful when everyone has a really good time.”
She stares at him in mounting horror.
“Savia says the steps of the jasalin are guided by the dancers on the second and third nights, that they reflect the dancers’ undisclosed needs, whatever that means.” Chakotay gets to his feet, pushing his chair back under her desk. “Don’t worry, Captain. Only the senior staff are invited to attend tonight, and tomorrow night it’s just the two of us. Your undisclosed needs are safe with me.”
He heads for the door, turns back just before he triggers the opening mechanism, and says with the barest hint of a dimple, “I’m certainly looking forward to finding out what they are.”
She drops her burning face into her hands as the doors close behind him.
She takes one look at the dress her maids have laid out for her to wear and sends Ilona away to bring her some wine.
She’s almost too on edge to hold still as Leda drapes the chemise over her head. It’s much shorter than the one she wore the previous night, barely reaching the tops of her thighs. Studying the dress, she realises this is so that the chemise won’t be seen beneath the alarmingly long split in the silken skirts. Her anxiety ratchets up a couple of notches.
Leda manoeuvres her gently into place before the mirror and fits the corset around her waist, and Kathryn grips the edge of the table and closes her eyes as she feels it hold her, constrain her. The laces tighten, and tighten deliciously more, and she can’t help the ragged breath that escapes her.
“Am I hurting you?” Leda asks solicitously.
“No,” she manages, in a huskier voice than she’d intended, and Leda, satisfied, pulls a little harder.
By the time Leda has tied off the corset, Kathryn is trembling. If she’d thought her aroused state of the night before had been an aberration, one look in the mirror tells her otherwise. Her throat is flushed, her nipples hard and pushing against the thin fabric of the chemise, and she can feel she’s slick between the legs. Flushing, she turns away from the mirror as Ilona brings over the dress.
The silk slips over her head and slides down the length of her body to pool in shimmers of variegated silver and bronze, catching the light and making her exhale. It’s truly beautiful and she’s almost too entranced at the feel of it against her to turn back to the mirror, but Ilona guides her over to it and as she and Leda twitch and smooth the fabric, adjusting it to perfection, Kathryn can’t help but stare.
The skirt is worrying enough; it covers her completely while she’s standing still, but she moves experimentally and realises that each time she takes a step, she’ll be exposing the entire length of one leg, all the way up to her … Kathryn flushes, wishing fervently that the Latavine believed in underwear, and vows to be extra careful. It’s the bodice that causes her the most concern. She’d thought the velvet gown from last night was daring, but this is on a whole new level, and she knows her habit of talking with her hands is not going to serve her well tonight – one too-expansive movement of her arm, and she’s going to spill right out of this dress. She sucks in a breath as deep as the corset allows, and flinches at the alarming swell of her breasts against the silk. “Is there a wrap I can wear?” she asks hopefully, but Leda shakes her head.
She is coiffed and made-up, helped into her shoes, and led down the long gilded hallway to the carved double doors. Think of the pergium, she reminds herself with each step, as the skirts curl sinuously around her legs, her naked thigh exposed to cooled air with each movement. She tries to ignore the caress of silk against her overheated skin, the way it contrasts with the firm embrace of the corset. She has never felt so aware of her own body, or so out of her mind.
The doors swing slowly open and Kathryn utters a brief, silent invocation for strength as she steps into the banquet hall. The fanfare is less jarring this time, the number of people inside less daunting, but the ordeal ahead of her puts a knot in her throat. She straightens her spine, praying her captain’s mask is holding, curves her lips upward and accepts the Chancellor’s offered hand.
She has arrived as late as possible to minimise the time she’ll need to spend avoiding the eyes of her senior staff – Tuvok remains on the bridge but Harry and Tom have cajoled B’Elanna into coming, while Neelix and Kes wouldn’t miss this for the world – and she firmly intends to leave as soon as the dreaded jasalin has been performed.
But that only means that Jarin leads her directly to their table and she comes face to face with Chakotay before she’s convinced her mask is completely in place. This time he isn’t engrossed in talking to Savia as she arrives, and although she tries not to look at him as she approaches the table, her gaze is drawn to his through some perverse form of magnetism. They lock eyes and her knees almost buckle from the hot wave of lust that slams through her. She wonders half-seriously if Ilona put something in her wine; but if so, it appears Chakotay has also been drinking it. He tracks her every move, the undisguised hunger in his eyes scorching the air between them. She sucks in air but the corset compresses her lungs and she gasps, her head light, her belly tightening. Her pulse flutters like something small and scared and caged, and she thinks, I have to get control of this.
She holds her skirts together as she sinks into her chair and keeps her spine straight. She wrenches her gaze away from Chakotay and nods a greeting to Savia, not trusting her voice.
“You look delicious, Captain,” Savia whispers loudly as Kathryn fidgets with a fold of tablecloth and wishes she had another glass of wine. “Don’t you think so, Chakotay?”
Chakotay says nothing.
“I knew that dress would be perfect for you,” Savia continues, her grey eyes sparkling. “I’m so glad I chose it.”
“You’re responsible for this?” Kathryn blurts without thinking, then clamps down on her tongue.
“Guilty,” Savia twinkles at her, then rises to speak the ritual words that begin the banquet.
Kathryn risks another glance at her first officer, catches the heat in his eyes and feels the sharp answering throb between her legs, and wishes she hadn’t.
Kathryn is only permitted an hour of Jarin’s time on their second morning before he has to attend to other responsibilities and Savia arrives to claim her company. Tucking Kathryn’s arm in hers, Savia pats her hand possessively. “I’m told you’re fond of a bath,” she lilts, and Kathryn thinks darkly that Chakotay will be lucky to live past today. “We’re going to the pools. You’ll love it,” she promises.
Half an hour later, lounging naked in a natural hot spring with Savia and several other ladies of the court, surrounded by carefully-tended greenery and secluded by artfully placed piles of boulders, Kathryn grudgingly admits to herself that Savia was right. The water, heated to the perfect temperature, smells faintly of roses and feels as soft against her skin as the silk dress she wore the night before. She tips her head back against the edge of the pool and closes her eyes.
At first she thinks she’s dreaming, that her sleepless nights have caught up with her and she’s drowsed off in the warm water. But the light touch on the outer curve of her breast grows more purposeful, and, startled, she opens her eyes. Savia is watching her with smoky grey eyes, the tip of her finger tracing inward to circle Kathryn’s nipple. She seems unconcerned that Kathryn is looking back at her. For her part, Kathryn doesn’t understand why she herself isn’t protesting. It’s that thought that jolts her out of her trance and she parts her lips to speak, but another hand slides smoothly from her knee to her inner thigh and she loses her voice.
Savia smiles, bends closer. Her lips almost touch Kathryn’s ear as she whispers, “I did promise you’d love it,” and Kathryn shivers at the tickle of her breath. Savia’s other hand slides into her hair, her nails scraping gently against Kathryn’s scalp, and the finger that touches her nipple is joined by another, rolling the pink bud taut as Savia’s teeth sink lightly into her neck and her other hand dips between her legs.
Her other hand.
Kathryn’s eyes, half-closed, now open wide. A hand in her hair, a hand on her breast, and one between her legs, stroking, teasing… And now another, smoothing over her abdomen, and Savia’s lips on her throat, and a mouth on her other breast, sucking and licking at the nipple until Kathryn can’t help the moan that escapes her lips.
“Stop,” she gasps, and Savia and her unnamed conspirator slowly pull back. Savia’s eyes slide to the other woman, who calmly wades away through the water. Kathryn’s gaze follows her, not knowing whether she wants to demand explanations or call the woman back.
“I’m sorry, Captain,” Savia says, her voice undercut with amusement. “We didn’t intend to cause you any distress.”
Kathryn finds her voice. “I’m not distressed,” she answers, trying to calm her breathing. “Just a little … shocked.”
She tries to explain. “There are elements of your culture that are very reminiscent of my own, several hundred years ago. But that was a time, on my world, when people were not nearly so … open about sexuality. Your society is turning out differently than I expected, and I guess I’m finding myself a little off-balance.”
Savia almost giggles. “Perhaps you’d be finding us less shocking now if you’d spent time with me yesterday, learning about our culture. I’ve explained many of our ways to your delightful first officer. He doesn’t seem to be having any trouble finding his balance.”
Kathryn can’t help stiffening. “Commander Chakotay has always been interested in anthropology. And his cultural background is different to mine. I suppose some traditions die hard.”
“Well,” Savia settles herself comfortably on the ledge beside Kathryn, taking her hand between her own, “I, for one, appreciate your willingness to conform to our traditions. And perhaps I understand you a little better now, too.”
Kathryn tries to concentrate on Savia’s words, rather than the way the other woman is threading her fingers through her own, stroking her wrist with her fingertips, drawing her nails lightly along the inside of Kathryn’s arm … She bites her lip. “How so?” she manages.
“You’re terribly resistant to the jasalin,” Savia answers frankly. “Most of the people we’ve invited to undertake the diplomatic ritual have embraced it quite whole-heartedly. It’s supposed to be pleasurable, Captain, and yet you seem determined to deny yourself pleasure.”
Kathryn tugs firmly at her hand until it slides out of Savia’s grasp and shifts slightly away from her on the ledge, not caring that she’s proving the other woman’s point. She’s aware she sounds slightly defensive as she answers, “My position precludes me from engaging in the kind of pleasure you’re referring to.”
“Ah, yes, your regulations. Your commander explained them to me. But surely they only apply to your crew. Can’t you seek pleasure elsewhere?”
“I … could. There’s no rule preventing it, as long as medical clearance is obtained, but I can’t …” She breaks off, tries again. “We have a very long journey ahead of us. And I can’t afford to get distracted.”
“You must be very lonely,” Savia says softly, and Kathryn is horrified to realise that her eyes are filling. She swallows hard against the ache in her throat.
“Yes,” she can’t help admitting, “sometimes, I am.”
Savia tucks Kathryn’s hair behind her ear. “Sometimes,” she offers, “being distracted is the whole point. You do have a long road to travel, Captain. Don’t be so focused on reaching the end of it that you forget to live in the meantime.”
She pours the wine and carries it carefully, dipping into a curtsey to allow Chakotay to take it from her. He sips, and she steels herself for the touch she knows is coming.
One finger runs lightly from just below her ear, down the length of her neck, coming to rest in the hollow of her throat. She presses her lips together and moves back to her seat, hiding her shaking hands under the table. She’s only slightly gratified to note that Chakotay’s hands aren’t exactly steady either.
She gulps wine, and reminds herself sharply not to overdo it. This is not the place to lose her inhibitions.
She gets through the rest of the banquet, steeling herself whenever Chakotay touches her. He mimics exactly the way Jarin touches Savia: a whisper of fingertips against her temple, her sternum, and – most disconcertingly, but she holds it together – her lips. It’s not until they reach dessert that Kathryn’s carefully constructed façade almost crumbles.
Savia presents Jarin with a small cup of a sorbet-like confection, and he takes it and runs his finger from shoulder to cleavage, along the edge of her deeply-scooped, very low-cut neckline. Her neckline which is almost as low-cut as Kathryn’s own. She watches as Savia shivers in response, her eyes briefly sliding shut.
I can’t do this, she thinks.
She turns to Chakotay and realises he’s already looking at her. He’s telling her with his eyes that he won’t do anything that makes her uncomfortable; he’ll follow her lead. And it’s that look that steels her. She gives him a tiny, barely-perceptible nod and stands, scoops up the sorbet and presents it to him.
Grant me one miracle, she appeals to a god she doesn’t believe in, and let Paris and Kim be looking in the opposite direction right now.
She closes her eyes.
The first touch on her shoulder makes her flinch, ever so slightly. He pauses, waits for the firming of her lips, then trails his fingers lightly and oh, so carefully, over the outer edge of her collarbone and across the swell of her breast. His touch hesitates ever so slightly where the fabric of her dress barely covers her nipple and Kathryn hisses out a breath, and then he continues downward, resting briefly in the dip between her breasts before slowly pulling his hand away. She opens her eyes. He’s watching her, his expression tightly closed. “Okay?” he whispers, and she nods and straightens her trembling legs, returning to her seat.
She wonders if the flush on her skin is as obvious as the hitch in her breathing, and as the banquet finally ends and Savia stands to announce the beginning of the jasalin, she wonders how she’s going to get through this dance with a shred of her dignity intact.
She lies rigid in bed. The covers are pulled up to her chin and her hands are clasped firmly together atop them. She’s exhausted, but she’s been lying here for hours and sleep won’t come.
Giving up, she throws off the covers and goes into the bathroom to draw a bath. There’s a bottle of foaming soap on the counter and she pours a few drops into the water, sinks into it and closes her eyes. The soap smells faintly of lavender and tingles lightly as it laps against her skin.
She tries not to think of the dance, but her mind seems determined to go there and she can’t help her hands drifting over her breasts, her belly, her thighs. Gritting her teeth, she opens her legs and dips her fingers between them, stroking herself, but she’s never been particularly adept at pleasuring herself and her orgasm is weak and unsatisfying, leaving her more worked up than before, and she wishes she hadn’t bothered. Frustrated, she lets herself submerge, holding her breath until she can’t anymore, and then she drags herself out of the bath, dresses in her uniform and calls for a beam-out to her ship.
Her legs are trembling as the dance begins and she can’t seem to let her body loosen enough to make her movements flow. She remembers what Savia told her – that tonight she’s expected to follow the other couple’s improvisations – and her shoulders tighten with apprehension. She trusts Jarin a little, enough to hope his interest in diplomatic relations will encourage him to keep the dance circumspect, but his wife is a different proposition.
“Try to relax,” Chakotay murmurs to her as she steps on his foot for the third time.
“Easy for you to say.” She spins slowly outward, her skirts falling dangerously away over her leading leg, feels his fingers wrap over hers and turns back into his hold. “You’re not the one being pawed at and wearing next to nothing.”
She feels him tense against her. “I’m following the ritual, Captain, as you ordered. If I’m making you uncomfortable we can call it quits right now.”
“I didn’t mean it to come out that way,” she whispers, instantly regretful. “I’m just feeling a little … exposed.” She glances down at herself. “Literally.”
Chakotay’s mouth quirks in response. “To be honest,” he says in a low voice as he walks in a circle behind her, “that’s not exactly making me comfortable, either.”
She shivers a little as his fingers skate down her arm and twine with hers. “You hide it well.”
“Then let me assure you, Kathryn,” he clasps a hand round her waist, bringing her flush against him, looking down at her, “I’m in no way unaffected.”
“I can feel that,” she blurts, then her eyes widen in chagrin. Whatever possessed you to say that? she rages at herself.
He looks like he’s trying unsuccessfully to hide a grin as she steps back from him, turning her hips to the side as he holds her elbow. Then he glances over at the other couple and his smirk fades. “Uh, Kathryn? You remember that thing Savia mentioned about the dance evolving?”
“Yes,” she says with trepidation.
“I think it just evolved.”
He turns her to face Jarin and Savia and she can’t help it; her mouth drops open. They’ve given up all pretence of placing distance between them and are moulded at the hips. The basic steps of the dance are the same; they’re just performing them melded together. Jarin’s hand rests low on Savia’s back and her left arm is raised around his shoulder, her fingers curled into his hair.
Savia turns her head and raises an expectant eyebrow, and Kathryn curses under her breath. “We have to imitate them.”
“Do you trust me?”
“Of course I do.”
“Then this is going to be fine,” he murmurs, and pulls her close.
She feels his leg push between her thighs as he dips her slightly backward, following the other couple’s moves. Her silken skirt sways from the waist, baring her entire leg as his hand slides over her hip, and she hears him make a sound in his throat as his fingers encounter bare skin. She can’t help the soft whimper that escapes her as his thigh presses right there against her centre. She wonders if he can feel how soaked she is through her skirt.
He tugs her back upright, bringing their hips into almost perfect alignment as he takes her hands and raises them above her head, his fingers encircling her wrists, one hand sliding down her arm. Glancing quickly at Savia to make sure she’s still on cue, Kathryn lets one arm curl around the back of Chakotay’s neck; the other, held in his hand, she lets him bring slowly down to bend behind her waist. The sleeve of her dress slips off her lowered shoulder and she hears him suck in a breath.
“What is it?” she whispers urgently.
“Wardrobe malfunction,” he mutters. She looks down and realises that last move has caused her bodice to slip down on one side. Her right breast is exposed, the nipple taut with obvious arousal.
“Help me,” she says, mortified, and he brings their joined hands around from behind her back, lifting them to his chest, and slips his index finger carefully under her bodice, twitching it back into place. His finger brushes her nipple and she can’t suppress a low, throaty moan. She closes her eyes, humiliation staining her cheeks.
“Sorry,” he says, flushing. “Accident.”
“Don’t mention it,” she manages huskily as the music draws to a close. She steps back from him, dropping into the curtsey that finishes the dance, not daring to look at the other couple for fear of what position she’ll be expected to mimic. Then, drawing herself as straight as she can, she forces her trembling legs to carry her from the banquet hall and as far away from watching eyes as she can go.
It’s 0300 when she transports back to the ship. Tuvok has command, and he stands to greet her as she walks onto the bridge. “Captain, I didn’t expect to see you tonight.”
“Trouble sleeping,” she answers tersely, not stopping. “I’ll be in my ready room.”
Barely fifteen minutes pass before Tuvok enters, standing before her desk.
“Yes?” she snaps.
“Captain, I couldn’t help but notice that you appear ill at ease. Is there anything I can assist you with?”
“No,” she says shortly, then drops her head into her hands. “Sorry, Tuvok. I don’t mean to be rude. I have difficulty sleeping when I’m not onboard Voyager.”
He remains standing in front of her, silent, and finally she looks up and realises he’s giving her an even look. “Was there something else, Lieutenant?”
To her surprise, he sits down without being invited – possibly a first – and steeples his fingers in front of him, watching her calmly. “I was, in fact, about to ask you the same question, Captain.”
“Something else?” she says. “All right. I will admit I’m having a little trouble with the Latavine interpretation of diplomacy, but it’s nothing to worry about.”
“Trouble?” he repeats.
“Difficulty,” she amends, then sighs. “You haven’t attended the banquets, Tuvok. Let’s just say there are some aspects of the ritual that I’m finding a little discomfiting.”
“Are you referring to the requirement that you behave in a subservient manner toward Commander Chakotay, or that you must allow him to touch you?”
Her mouth opens and she shuts it with a snap. “Both,” she finally grates out.
“Perhaps I can offer you counsel,” he suggests. “On the first matter, I’m sure it is clear to both you and the Commander that you are acting out a ritual defined by an alien species. Your feigned deference bears no similarity to your actual relationship to the Commander, and I do not believe it will have any impact on his respect for you or his commitment to serve you as Captain.”
So why is it so damned exciting? she wonders, and her eyes widen. Where did that come from?
Tuvok, apparently oblivious (though she knows better than to believe he hasn’t catalogued her reaction), continues, “As for the physical contact, your tendency to touch some members of your crew demonstrates that you are yourself a particularly tactile individual. Yet there are limited opportunities for you to enjoy reciprocal contact. Perhaps you should consider this such an opportunity.”
“Lie back and think of Starfleet, then?” she snaps acerbically, then cringes. “I apologise again, Tuvok. It’s just that – this isn’t exactly the same kind of touching. This is much more…” she hesitates, “intimate.”
“Then your concern is related to exploring that aspect of your relationship with Commander Chakotay.”
“It may surprise you to know, Captain, that I am not unaware of the complexities of your association with the Commander. I have not mentioned it previously as it was neither relevant nor appropriate. However, given his evident regard for you, the obvious development of your friendship during your recent enforced period of cohabitation while quarantined, and the fact that you have now been necessarily estranged from the possibility of an intimate relationship for two and a half years, it is not unreasonable to expect that you might have considered the Commander as a potential sexual partner.”
Kathryn almost chokes.
Tuvok sails smoothly on. “I am aware of your loyalty to your fiancé, Captain, as well as your resolve to comply with Starfleet’s fraternisation protocols. Nonetheless, I believe that in our unique circumstances, Starfleet would not object to a more relaxed interpretation of the rules. In addition, humans, like many other species, require intimate companionship to function at peak efficiency, and the Commander would be –”
“Stop!” Kathryn throws up a hand, thinking wildly, I cannot take this anymore. She sucks in a deep breath. “Tuvok, I can see you’ve given this a lot of logical thought, and I appreciate your concern for my wellbeing, but this discussion is still neither relevant nor appropriate. I cannot have a – a sexual relationship with my first officer. It just wouldn’t be right.”
“May I enquire as to your reasoning, Captain?”
She simply can’t believe she is having this conversation with Tuvok, of all people, and she can’t believe she’s actually going to answer him either, but – “It’s too risky. I need all my focus on making sure we survive and get home. I can’t afford to be preoccupied with some love affair.”
Tuvok raises an eyebrow. “I don’t believe I mentioned a love affair. My argument was based on the human need for sexual contact.”
She feels the flush work up from under her collar. “Oh.”
“Your bond with your fiancé would not require dissolution in order to satisfy your physical needs.”
“I gave up on Mark the minute I destroyed that array,” she says, her voice low. “It took me a while to accept it, yes, but as you said, it’s been two and a half years. I don’t believe he would still be waiting for me even if we got home tomorrow, and…” she bites her lip, “I don’t believe I’d want him to. My feelings for him have changed.”
“And your feelings for the Commander?” Tuvok asks quietly.
“They’re … different.” She clamps her mouth shut.
“Do you?” She rises and begins to pace agitatedly. “We were so close on that damned planet, Tuvok. A few more days, God, a few more hours and everything would have changed between us. And then Voyager was back for us and we had to abandon those possibilities and learn to work together as Captain and XO again. It wasn’t easy,” she says on a half-sob, turning to him. “It was terribly hard, but we did it. We pushed it all aside, and we’re friends, good friends, and I could ignore everything else we might have been. And then we meet the Latavine and I agree to their godforsaken ritual and now I’m finding it so very difficult to ignore this, this potential between us, and you wonder why I’m ill at ease!”
Her voice rises almost to a shout on the last few words, and she slumps back into her chair, her head dropping into her hands, fingers digging into her hair. “I don’t know what to do,” she mumbles.
After a long moment she feels a cool touch on her wrist and she looks up into Tuvok’s solemn eyes. “I understand your concerns, but I trust your judgement, Captain,” he tells her. “And for the record, I do not believe an intimate relationship with Commander Chakotay, be it a sexual arrangement or a love affair, would hinder your focus on getting this ship home. But whichever decision you make, you will have my support.”