It started with the hands, Kathryn thought, somehow it was always the hands. In her case whenever she was attracted to someone she felt the tingling in her fingertips. In this case the hands in question were those of an alien species Voyager had met two days ago.
The Maxian people were very intelligent, very beautiful and very friendly. In Captain Kathryn Janeway’s experience most people who were as beautiful as the Maxians were narcissistic and condescending. These people down to the smallest child were tall, blonde and fair skinned. In a lot of ways they reminded Janeway of her Astrometric officer, but where Seven was whip-thin and womanly curves, the Maxians were lean, and chiseled musculature. Instead of being prideful the Maxians took their appearance as commonplace and were fascinated with the myriad hues of Voyager’s multi-cultural species. The characteristic they did take pride in was their hands.
Maxian hands were more sensitive than any Janeway had ever met. They were capable of discerning mood or intent with a mere touch, a form of telepathy. When Yunath, the female leader of the Maxians, extended a hand in greeting Kathryn was surprised by a salutation so common to Earth culture until she understood that Yunath gained more by the simple press of flesh than a friendly hello. With the first touch Yunath had known of the deep loneliness Kathryn hid from her crew, her heartbreak over the loss of every crewman that had died under her command and of her determination to get them across the galaxy.
Knowing what she did now, Kathryn was tempted to be angry with the alien woman that reminded her so much of Seven of Nine whenever she looked at her. But as much as the two were the same, they were also very different. Yunath never argued or raised her voice during the two days of negotiation, and where Seven’s eyes were blue Yunath’s were the deep green of a verdant forest. If they had been on Earth Kathryn would have thought the eyes had been altered.
No one had eyes that color…did they?
Janeway was currently back on board Voyager after another full day of negotiations. She was talking with her senior staff to brief them on what had occurred so far. The Maxians were more than willing to share any medicines, foodstuffs and technology to a similarly advanced culture…well almost any technology.
She had discovered that the Maxians possessed space-folding technology that they adamantly refused to share. The situation reminded her of another species Voyager had encountered during their first year stranded in the delta quadrant. Another species had similar technology and had refused to share, but against Janeway’s orders her crew went behind her back and stole it anyway. It hadn’t mattered in the end; the matrix had been incompatible with Voyager’s systems and had almost overloaded the warp core before B’Elanna Torres blew the damned thing up with a phaser.
Now here they were with another species that possessed the same technology, but it functioned on a completely compatible level with the Intrepid class ship’s systems. Yunath had been happy to share information about space folding, but had adamantly refused to share technology itself. Her reasons? In the wrong hands the technology could be used to attack unsuspecting worlds.
"But surely they realize we wouldn’t use it for that," Tom Paris argued. "The Maxians can tell everything about us just by touching us. We wouldn’t use space-folding to attack anyone."
As worldly as her helmsman was Kathryn sometimes thought he was more naïve than Ensign Harry Kim, fresh out of the academy when he’d been assigned to be communications officer on board Voyager. Before she could point out the flaws in his argument her first officer beat her to it.
"Maybe not you," Chakotay said, "but the Maxians have had a chance to interact with the entire crew during their shore leave. There is darkness in all of us and I’m sure someone on this crew might have seen the potential for profit somewhere in all this."
"The Maxians don’t want to take a chance that the technology would be misused. You can’t really blame them, after all we have the Prime Directive for the same reason," Harry added.
B’Elanna growled at his accepting attitude. "Well that’s just not good enough! Isn’t there some way we could convince them that we’d destroy the technology once we’d used it to get home? We can’t just give up!"
Janeway held up her hands for silence. "I agree…with all of you. We do have the Prime Directive to consider, but I also think there is a way around this. Yunath hasn’t said as much, but I get the feeling when I talk to her that she is trying to lead me somewhere."
"Somewhere around their restrictions on sharing space-folding?" the medical hologram asked from the end of the conference table.
"Maybe," Kathryn responded. "In any case I’m not inclined just to give up. Seven, Tuvok and I will continue negotiations in the morning. Hopefully by that time I’ll have figured out what it is I’m missing. If anyone has any ideas in the meantime, please feel free to bring them to my attention. Now if that’s all? Dismissed."
Janeway walked through the rear exit of the conference room and into her ready room. She grabbed a quick cup of coffee from the replicator before she sat down at her desk to mull over the situation. Something was nagging at her; she just couldn’t quite put her finger on it.
Why was she tempted to be so angry with Yunath? Was it just because they had been denied something they wanted or was it something else? Yunath had made it clear over the last few days that she was physically attracted to Janeway. Throughout the negotiations she had constantly touched her or stared deeply into her eyes as though mesmerized. Several times Janeway had caught herself staring back, fascinated. Now she wondered if Yunath had been interested in her physically or merely constantly touching her to get a read on her emotions. Kathryn realized that she found Yunath attractive, who wouldn’t? But it was just because she reminded her of Seven. Although Kathryn would never instigate anything inappropriate with a member of her crew, that didn’t mean she didn’t have emotions. She also didn’t appreciate being toyed with.
And what about this space-folding thing? Did Yunath really think they were untrustworthy? She just didn’t think so. Yunath was nothing if not forthright and would have told her so if that were the case. Was there some kind of test they were supposed to pass before it would happen?
Kathryn finally gave up fighting with herself as a lost cause and decided to retire for the night. Maybe with some sleep she could figure out what all the under currents between her and Yunath meant.
Her dreams were haunted by images of verdant green eyes and full lips that kept her from sleeping deeply. At one point she awoke to the feeling that someone else was in her bedroom, but the presence was comforting and she was disinclined to move from her warm spot on the bed. Kathryn lay in the darkness surrounded by a welcome presence she would have sworn was female. Then, impossibly, she felt the gentle press of lips against her own.
The kiss was soft, sweet and the most sensual thing she had ever experienced. Blood thundered through her veins and moisture pooled between her legs. Kathryn felt her nipples harden and she gasped in arousal.
A voice whispered in her head, "Mine, you are mine."
Kathryn reached out to the mysterious form and her arms closed on nothing. In surprise she opened her eyes to find that she was alone. It had been a dream, only a dream. But it had been so intense. Kathryn had felt Yunath’s kiss to the center of her soul and she knew she would sleep no more this night.
Negotiations didn’t go well the next day, but Kathryn was so distracted she really didn’t notice. The feelings she had experienced in her dream the night before were still with her and she couldn’t stop looking at Yunath. Every look from those green eyes mesmerized, every flick of her tongue across her lips as she spoke tantalized. Kathryn couldn’t focus on what she said, only the fact that she was so close. She had only to reach out and Yunath was there.
Yunath was just as physical as she had been the previous two days and she touched Kathryn frequently, but this time Janeway met her halfway. When the other woman reached out to touch the back of her hand Kathryn turned her hand over and clasped Yunath’s warmly.
She knew that Seven and Tuvok watched her curiously and probably wondered if this was the tactic the captain had spoken of the previous night. She didn’t care. She listened with half an ear and knew that they had everything they wanted except the desperately sought knowledge that would send them home. Finally the subject came up and Janeway focused with difficulty.
"Is there a task you require from us before you would be willing to share the knowledge of folding space?" Seven asked.
Janeway looked at the other woman in confusion and saw cold anger on Seven’s face. Why was Seven angry? Kathryn was just responding to Yunath in the way the other woman preferred to communicate. Kathryn pulled her hand away from Yunath and sat up straight. The look of relief on Seven’s face when she disconnected from the alien leader was plain and surprised Kathryn. Seven was jealous. If this had happened yesterday she would have been thrilled, but now she was merely confused.
Yunath sighed deeply and turned to Seven of Nine. "I feared that you would not let this subject rest. I have conferred with the counsel and they have agreed that the decision is mine to make. Our scientists have agreed that even though it is compatible with your systems it would only be capable of making two folds and then be rendered inoperable."
"Even if that were true Voyager would be significantly closer to the alpha quadrant," Tuvok responded. "Two folds at maximum distance would put us within two hundred light years of Earth."
"We’d be home in a week," Kathryn breathed.
The possibility of home loomed in Kathryn’s head and helped to clear the fog she had operated in for half the day.
"As I have said, the counsel has decided that the decision is mine. I have decided to share this technology with you on one condition."
The three Voyager crewmembers looked at Yunath convinced that the condition, delivered in such tones, could not be good.
Yunath looked directly into Janeway’s eyes and said, "I will share this technology if you will spend the night with me."
"I beg your pardon."
Kathryn felt like she had just fallen into a well. It was suddenly very difficult to breathe and she felt her face burn in embarrassment. Had she just been propositioned in front of a crowd?
Yunath smiled and held out her hand. "All I desire is one evening spent enjoying your charm. Dinner, perhaps a walk under the stars. Surely you will not deny me this."
"Oh." Kathryn let out her breath in relief.
She reached out and took Yunath’s hand. She would have given up her underwear if she had to in order to get her crew home. One date with a gorgeous woman wasn’t going to kill her.
"I accept your terms," she smiled.
Yunath stood without releasing Kathryn’s hand. "Until tonight then. I will meet you out in the gardens at dusk."
She didn’t bend over and kiss Kathryn’s hand in an old-fashioned chivalrous move, but the look in her eyes said she wasn’t far from it. Kathryn gracefully nodded and the crew made their exit from the counsel chambers.
Seven of Nine was silent during the walk back to the beam out coordinates. Although silences were not unusual for the normally stoic woman Kathryn could feel the anger that radiated off her. Tuvok was not so quiet and after a few moments Kathryn wished that he would just shut up.
"Captain, I must object. This is not a wise idea."
"Really, Tuvok? Why is that?"
"Protocol dictates that the captain must not be unescorted during an away mission. I would be negligent in my duties if I allowed you to return to the planet without security."
"Tuvok, you can’t be serious. The entire crew is on shore leave except the negotiations party. I can’t really see any threat, can you?"
"Even on shore leave the captain is usually accompanied by security," Seven interjected unhelpfully.
"You just don’t want me to go on this date," Kathryn said a little sharply, and regretted it immediately. Instead of letting the comment rest as personal she added, "If we want this space-folding ability, I have to go through with it. It’s the only way to get us home and I really don’t think Yunath will allow anything to happen to me."
"Captain it is not logical that Yunath’s one condition is a date with you. There must be something that she is hiding."
"Why, Seven? Do you think I’m so undesirable that a date with me wouldn’t be worth a little technology?"
Seven of Nine closed her mouth with a snap and refused to look at the captain again.
"I assume this decision is final?" Tuvok asked with a raised eyebrow.
"I will note my objection in my log."
"You do that."
Later as Kathryn dressed for her date she thought about the point Seven had made. She would never admit that she agreed there was something Yunath was hiding. Unlike Seven she thought the hidden threat was more sexual than hostile. She also had to admit that it stroked her ego to be so desired by another, and that she liked Yunath.
The whole time Voyager had been stranded in the delta quadrant Kathryn was the captain. She wasn’t allowed to be a woman with normal wants and needs. Very likely this space-folding technology would have them near home in only a few days and just for once she wanted to allow herself to be a woman with feelings. For one night she wanted the magic she had felt since the dream that had somehow connected her to someone else.
Yunath had mentioned a walk under the stars so Kathryn dressed comfortably for a night on Maxia. The nights could be warm so she chose a silk navy blouse to bring out the smoke color of her eyes, figure hugging black slacks and open toed sandals. A brief touch of perfume and diamond stud earrings completed her wardrobe.
Kathryn took a moment to check her reflection and was startled to see a blush of excitement on her cheeks and a glitter in her eyes. It had been a long time since she’d felt this way.
The computer chimed and let her know it was time to beam down to the planet.
Janeway walked down the corridor toward the transporter room and tried to ignore the appreciative and curious looks from her crew. In a few minutes she stood in the lovely botanical gardens outside the counsel chamber and checked the horizon.Twin suns had just begun to break the horizon on their downward track. Dusk…on the nose.
A sound behind her made Kathryn turn around. Her breath caught in her throat and she was struck mute by the stunning vision before her. For a moment she thought it was Seven of Nine, but then Yunath stepped out of the shadows and Kathryn thought she was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.
Yunath’s hair had been swept back into a loose ponytail and strands hung in front to gently frame her face. A white gown swept toga style around her and lovingly hugged her hips while leaving her mid-section open to Kathryn’s appreciative eye. A green jewel the same shade as her eyes adorned her navel and drew attention to the sculpted abdominal muscles that caused Janeway’s arms to break out in goose bumps. She looked like a Greek goddess. She took in the vision before her from head to toe before she finally met the eyes that gazed back at her.
Yunath lowered her eyes shyly before she finally stepped forward, well into Kathryn’s personal space. "I find you aesthetically pleasing as well."
Boldly, Yunath reached out to rest her hands on the swell of Janeway’s hips. Kathryn allowed herself to be caught in the magic and raised her hands to rest on firm biceps.
It’s just one night and I feel like Cinderella. So shoot me.
Yunath lowered her head until Kathryn felt her breath ghost over her neck. At first she thought the other woman was going to kiss her, but then realized that she was inhaling the scent of her perfume.
Maxians don’t kiss, Kathryn remembered. They greeted loved ones by touching their faces gently. Well, that was one thing Kathryn realized she was going to miss out on. There was nothing better to the end of a great date than a kiss. The best she could hope for was a solid handshake.
"Are you hungry?"
"Starved," Kathryn answered the soft question, surprised to find it was the truth. She realized that she hadn’t eaten all day.
"I have reserved a table on the beach of Maxia’s most famous resort. It should provide us a little privacy and has the most delicious cuisine available on our planet. I have also left word that none of Voyager’s crew will be allowed reservations on this night."
Janeway was grateful for her thoughtfulness. She wanted to enjoy tonight and she would have been uncomfortable with her crew hanging around watching her every move.
Yunath began to walk away from the counsel chambers and Kathryn walked closely beside her.
Yunath surprised her by asking, "Was your mate very angry with you for accepting my terms?"
"Seven of Nine."
"Seven’s not my mate," Kathryn answered in confusion. "She’s a crewmate and a friend, nothing more."
"Are you sure?"
Janeway frowned as she thought about it. She had picked up on Seven’s jealousy earlier, but didn’t think it had the same context as what Yunath thought.
"Seven and I have a unique relationship. In a way we’re closer than friends. She sees me as a person with strengths and weaknesses instead of just a superior officer. I suppose that grants her a unique perspective."
Yunath seemed content to drop the subject for the moment and linked her arm through Kathryn’s. The night was clear and stars began to gleam overhead. A soft breeze began to blow and Janeway could smell the brine of the sea as it wafted directly before them. Both were content merely to be together and enjoy the feel of soft flesh as they walked closely together.
Soon Kathryn could hear soft music and see lights from a large restaurant up ahead. The establishment was easily three stories high and seemed crowded with Maxians but there wasn’t a Voyager crewman in sight.
No one accosted Yunath even though she was a political leader although she received a few nods of polite acknowledgement. They were shown directly to a secluded table outside on the deck. Large potted plants and sculptures helped them to feel like they were the only two people other than their waiter.
"May I bring you something to drink, ladies?"
Kathryn deferred to Yunath. They had been on the planet for three days and though much of Voyager’s crew had been on shore leave Kathryn had been involved in negotiations. This was her first experience in Maxian society.
Yunath ordered a red wine that Kathryn thoroughly enjoyed. It was light, full-bodied and surprisingly heady. The conversation was light and the touches of their fingers frequent. Kathryn again reminded herself that touching was normal for these people and finally just reached across the table to hold Yunath’s hand. The delight in the other woman’s eyes was clear.
If Kathryn had to describe dinner in familiar terms she would have said they enjoyed oysters on the half-shell for an appetizer, shrimp salad and lobster thermidor for their main course. No doubt the Maxian name for what they ate was completely different, but she wasn’t unaware that all of the food could be considered aphrodisiacs. After dinner they walked on the beach holding hands. Kathryn spoke of her home on Earth and described growing up in rural Indiana. Yunath described growing up as a child of the waves and how it was to be the leader of a multitude. Kathryn thought it was very close to being the captain of a starship stranded in another quadrant.
Their conversation led to members of Voyager’s crew and Kathryn described the five she had grown closest to during their voyage. When she spoke of Seven her voice softened and she was unaware of Yunath’s observations.
"You would be with her if you could."
"No," Kathryn argued. "We’re just friends."
"You forget that I can sense what is in your heart with a touch. I have sensed your feelings for Seven since your arrival."
Kathryn almost snatched her hand back, but then she laughed and said, "I guess you’ve got me there. But as much as I might…think about the possibilities it just isn’t possible."
"Seven is under my command. And even if there really isn’t a rule against it, there is an inherent sense of implied power by my being her commanding officer. What if something did happen between us and then later she decided that I’d taken advantage of her? I’m not sure I’m ready to be accused of sexual harassment."
"Can you really see anyone harassing Seven of Nine?" Yunath asked seriously.
Kathryn thought about it and finally laughed. "No, I suppose not. If Seven didn’t appreciate the attention she’d let me know in no uncertain terms. I’d probably find myself floating out an airlock."
"You enjoy the sense of challenge you get from her."
Yunath sounded surprised and Kathryn realized it was the truth. "Yes, I suppose I do. She makes me think about why I do things, not just the fact that I have the authority. And she demands that I explain myself when I make a decision she doesn’t agree with. Believe me, I haven’t always appreciated her in-your-face attitude, but over the years I think I’ve become a better person for it."
Yunath let the conversation drift away as they walked. Soon they came upon a tide pool and Kathryn watched the other woman as she squatted down to look into the shallow water.
Kathryn bent to see what she was looking at and saw glowing life forms of iridescent green swimming through the shadows.
"They’re beautiful. What are they?"
"They are called lanoi and are very rarely seen. It is said that if one finds lanoi swimming on a full moon then all of their heart’s desires will be fulfilled."
Kathryn listened to the tale and was reminded again of the magic she had felt since the middle of the night. First there was her dream, the crazy proposition of a date in exchange for some much needed technology and the feeling she had experienced all night of floating on a cloud with a princess.
"I had a dream last night," Kathryn said from where she squatted next to Yunath in the night. She watched the lanoi while she spoke. "Someone came into my bedroom and woke me with her presence. She whispered that I was hers, and she kissed me."
Kathryn sighed deeply. "It was an amazing kiss; chaste yet completely erotic at the same time. I’ve never felt anything like it."
For a time there was silence and Kathryn was content to merely be heard. Then Yunath said, "I was there. I felt your dream with you. Perhaps that is why I insisted on this date. Somehow I’ve felt connected to you."
They stood and clasped hands again before they walked a little farther along the beach. They came to a broken seawall and Yunath sat upon it. Kathryn sat closely beside her and enjoyed it when Yunath put an arm around her and hugged her close.
The sun had just begun to break over the water and Yunath watched it sadly before she turned back to Kathryn. "The night is almost over and our bargain is complete. During the night I had our engineers help refit your ship with the technology."
"So we’ll be going home."
Kathryn was surprised to find tears trembled on her lashes at the thought of leaving this woman behind.
"Yes, you will be leaving and I will have nothing more than a memory of you to hold onto. Still, I would not have traded this night with you for anything."
"I’ll miss you, too." Kathryn spoke softly.
"Before you go back to your ship there is one thing I would like to do."
Yunath stood up from the seawall and turned until she stood between Kathryn’s legs. She reached out to gently cup the soft face between her hands and Kathryn knew that she felt more than the warmth of her skin. Yunath’s sensitive hands felt every pore, every soft follicle of hair and the low throb of blood as it pulsed in the capillaries beneath her flesh. She also felt the desire Kathryn had for her, the need to merge with her sexually.
Kathryn breathed deeply and raised her hands to rest on her hips.
"I have seen your crewmates engaged in a certain activity while on our planet and I wish to share that experience with you. Will you allow me to kiss you, Kathryn Janeway?"
It was more than she had hoped for. "Yes."
Yunath lowered her head; Kathryn rose to her feet to meet her halfway. Her arms twined around the long, slender neck as she anticipated the first touch, but Yunath took her time. Her full lips brushed Kathryn’s softly and she gasped at the sensations. Then her lips pressed fully and Kathryn instinctively opened her mouth to deepen the kiss. Yunath mirrored the movement and growled in arousal when Kathryn’s tongue touched her own.
Knowing it was the other woman’s first kiss allowed Kathryn to experience the sensations as if they were new all over again. She felt the soft roughness of Yunath’s tongue, the moist heat, the sharpness of her teeth. She tasted the sweetness of her desire and lost herself in the flow of passion. Again and again they surged against each other in an attempt to devour and merge.
Finally, irrevocably, Yunath ended the kiss with a suspicious glint of moisture in her eyes. "It is time for you to go."
A sob escaped Kathryn and she flung herself into the other woman’s arms. "I don’t want to leave you," she admitted against the soft skin of Yunath’s neck. "I don’t want the fairy tale to end."
"Then don’t." Yunath held tightly to Kathryn. "Stay here with me."
For an instant Kathryn was tempted. She knew Yunath could sense how much she wanted to stay, just as she could sense the crewmen that flashed through Kathryn’s mind and their desire to go home. Surely just as clear was the sense of responsibility a Starfleet captain had for her crew. Last of all was an image of Seven of Nine that she couldn’t deny.
Yunath pulled away and slowly lowered her arms. "I understand. The choice is not yours to make."
"I wish that it were," Kathryn said sincerely unashamed of the tears that coursed down her face.
Before she could turn away Yunath spoke again. "Kathryn, I know that this night has been special for both of us. But there is another in your heart that would gladly take my place. You love her truly, and the one thing she can give you that I cannot is challenge. You would not be content long with me for there would be no challenge. I would love you completely, but would never force my will upon you.
Your people thrive on challenge and Seven will give you that as well as the love you desire. Don’t lose sight of that because of protocol or duty."
"Do you know something I don’t?" Kathryn asked sadly.
Yunath smiled gently and said, "I know that she loves you as much as you love her. She simply has no way of telling you."
Kathryn was surprised by the revelation, but at this moment couldn’t think about Seven. All she could think about was the heart-rending sensation of leaving this woman behind.
"Will you walk with me back to the gardens?"
Yunath reached out to take the offered hand. "I would always walk with you."
Four days later Kathryn sat alone in her ready room. She missed Yunath and the night they had shared together, but a few days of perspective helped her see with clear eyes. Yunath had reminded her of Seven, she had been right about that. But what they had shared had been special, and she didn’t want to take anything away from that. Her heart was sore and she was lonelier than ever. But after much soul searching Kathryn decided she was lonely because she wanted to share her life with someone and she already knew who that someone was. The question was…would Seven think Kathryn was merely seeking a substitute for Yunath?
Kathryn sighed and looked down at her console. Voyager had made one space fold and jumped halfway to the alpha quadrant. The second fold was due to be made in one hour. They hadn’t made the jumps back to back for fear of blowing out the ship’s systems and overloading the warp core at the same time. It was safer this way, and the next jump would put them seven days out from the Terran system.
The chime to the ready room sounded and Kathryn looked up grateful for the distraction.
Seven of Nine swayed into the ready room and headed straight for the captain’s desk.
"Here is the astrological data for this quadrant."
Seven had insisted on mapping the sector of space they had emerged into for research purposes. She claimed that it would be more data for Starfleet once they were able to create reliable space-folding technology that would allow them to explore the universe.
"Thank you, Seven. I appreciate your attention to detail."
Seven nodded once in her version of acknowledgement and turned toward the door. Kathryn quickly considered all of her options and the discussions she had shared with Yunath and decided to take a chance.
"Seven," she said and stopped the other woman before she could open the doors. "Do you have any plans after your shift?"
Curious, Seven lifted an eyebrow and said, "No, captain. I have not made plans as yet."
Kathryn smiled and stood up. She walked around the desk and over toward the other woman. When she was well into Seven’s personal space she looked up at her and was struck by the chiseled features that stared back at her.
The dream; the woman in the dream! She had assumed it was Yunath; the woman had been so much a part of her life during those few days. But she had been wrong. Yunath may have shared the dream because of their connection, but the woman in the dream had been Seven of Nine.
"Would you like to have dinner with me? My quarters around eighteen hundred hours?"
For a moment Seven was her usual stoic self, then her eyes warmed and she relaxed marginally.
"Yes, Captain. I would like that."
"Great," Kathryn said and reached out to clasp the other woman’s forearm. "And Seven? When we’re alone I’d really like it if you’d call me Kathryn."
To her immense pleasure and surprise Seven smiled softly and said, "Yes…Kathryn."
Then she turned and walked out.
Kathryn felt a new bounce in her step as she walked back over to her desk. Sometimes fate just hit you when you least expected it, and sometimes all it took was a seemingly random move to get things headed in the right direction.
The course that led them to Maxia had made it possible to move Voyager closer to home and to finally let Kathryn and Seven move into the same orbit of each other. Maybe if she were very lucky they could move even closer together…very close indeed!