"Whoa!" Tom Paris exclaimed under his breath. His wife, B'Elanna, turned to see what had claimed his attention.
"Well, that's certainly a change from her usual Starfleet drab," she said dryly.
The object of their attention, Captain Kathryn Janeway, had entered the mess hall. Made over into a reception area, the room was already full with off-duty crewman and honored dignitaries. The K'ndarii ambassador had stopped Kathryn near the doorway, where they were no doubt exchanging pleasantries.
It was not the captain herself who had garnered such a response from Tom, but rather her attire. She was dressed in a floor length beige sheath. Her arms were bare, as was most of her back, and a wide row of beige-colored sequins adorned the hem. The dress seemed to caress the captain's curves rather than hug them, only adding to the sexy appeal of the dress . . . and the wearer. It was definitely *not* something they'd ever seen her wear before.
Tom continued to stare until a well-placed elbow in his side convinced him it would be wise to pay more attention to his wife than his captain.
"Why do you think the K'ndarii insisted on this reception?" he speculated.
"It's probably written somewhere in their `codes'," Harry Kim answered as he joined them. "I heard that their laws number over fourteen thousand. And that's not counting the list of their customs."
"Whatever the reason for this get together, I'm just glad it includes dancing for once, instead of just standing around stuffing our faces with some god-awful alien food, and hashing over the same old stale gossip." B'Elanna took Tom's hand and led him toward the makeshift dance floor in one corner of the room. A trio of K'ndarii musicians were playing nearby, a tune that was slow and sensuous.
The gentle swell of B'Elanna's abdomen pressing lightly against him, Tom started moving slowly to the music, indulging in his wife's wish to dance. He'd much rather be trying out the new addition to his Captain Proton program, but he'd never let her know that.
Things were running smoothly - more crewman and K'ndarii joined in the dancing and the buffet table was a success (thanks to the captain forbidding Neelix to even think of using Leola root in any of the dishes). Tom was beginning to actually enjoy himself.
He was out for another turn on the dance floor, when his eyes widened. "Houston, we have a problem," he muttered.
"What?" B'Elanna asked, not getting the reference right away.
He nodded to a corner of the dance floor where Chakotay had been talking to a couple of the former Maquis crewmen earlier. Now he stood alone, save one person - Jenny Delaney, to be exact.
"Whoa!" B'Elanna echoed her husband's words of earlier. "Someone's dressed for sex tonight." She was commenting on the fire engine red slip dress that fit Jenny like a second skin. "Well, I won't deny that she's dressed like a two-bit hooker, but where's the problem?"
"To put it bluntly, Jenny's recently started becoming quite the female gigolo."
"Well, I knew she liked male company from things you've told me, but I didn't realize she liked _that_ much company."
"The rumor among the guys is that `the girl gets around'," Tom said, craning his neck as they danced so he could keep an eye on the First Officer and the Delaney twin. "Not that she's a slut. She doesn't choose that often, but when she does, she's never been told `no.' And tonight she's set her eyes on Chakotay."
"They're two consenting adults, Tom, I still don't see a problem."
"Then you haven't seen our captain in the last five minutes," Tom said. He twirled B'Elanna so that their positions were reversed.
"Oh," she said, finally understanding what Tom was getting at. Janeway was standing on the opposite side of the room from Chakotay but she had an unobstructed view of him. And if looks could kill, Chakotay would be cold, and six feet under by now.
B'Elanna looked back toward Chakotay and Jenny. Jenny had coaxed him out onto the dance floor and was using the dancing as an excuse to rub her body suggestively against him. Every crack and crevice on her body was delineated by the skimpy dress. Chakotay seemed to be amused and possibly flattered rather than offended.
Tom was watching Janeway. The anger in her blue-gray eyes darkened them to a stormy hue. She squared her shoulders and headed across the room . .. straight for Chakotay and Jenny.
"Oh oh," Tom said. "Chakotay's either going to get flayed or laid."
B'Elanna stepped on his foot.
"Hey! You don't have to work with them as closely as I do. Sometimes the sexual tension between them is so thick you can cut it with knife. It's past time they acknowledged it." He maneuvered them as close to Chakotay's position as he could without being too obvious about it. He wanted a front row seat on the action.
Janeway reached Jenny and Chakotay, and tapped Jenny on the shoulder. "I'm cutting in," she said, in a voice usually reserved for the bridge. Jenny looked indignant. She looked at Chakotay for support, but he just smiled and shrugged. "Well!" she huffed, turning and making for the drink table.
"Captain," Chakotay said, clearing not understanding the position he was in.
Janeway stepped in close, her beige dress showing in stark relief against Chakotay's black turtleneck and matching trousers. "Chakotay," she said, "please tell me you weren't seriously considering sleeping with Jenny Delaney."
"Sleeping with Jenny? She just asked me to dance." He was clearly confused.
Tom wondered how Chakotay could have missed all the signals that Jenny had been sending out. Even he'd seen them, and he was a happily married man.
"Chakotay," the captain was continuing, "if you have certain -" She trailed off as she realized that they were starting to draw a fair amount of attention. She straightened up. "Commander, follow me." She pivoted on a heel and headed out the door. A bemused expression on his face, Chakotay followed.
"Damn," Tom muttered. "Just as it was about to get good." He stopped dancing and tugged on B'Elanna's hand. "Come on, you need some fresh air."
They were out in the corridor now and Tom looked around, trying to figure out where the captain and first officer might have gone. Her quarters? The ready room? He headed toward the captain's quarters, hand clasped with B'Elanna's.
"I'm gonna get you," she said, her low voice laced with the promise of dire consequences.
"For what?" he whispered back.
"For dragging me along on this stupid spying -"
"Shhhhh," he warned, slowing down and pressing his back against the wall. "I think I hear them."
He crept along, B'Elanna letting out an exasperated sigh behind him.
Tom peeked around a corner, then ducked back quickly. He put his finger to his lips just to make sure B'Elanna would stay quiet. The last thing he wanted was to be caught playing "Peeping Tom."
"Kathryn," Chakotay was saying, "I still don't understand what this is all about. Jenny asked me to dance -- I was dancing. End of story."
"Chakotay, have I imagined the sexual tension between us all these years? Tell me that if a cure hadn't been found five years ago, and we were still on that planet - you, me, the bathtub - you wouldn't have given in to the feelings inside of you. Tell me."
"Why this change? Why now?" He was struggling to understand.
Janeway ran a hand through her hair. "I'm not blind, Chakotay, though some of my crew might think so. I see the way Seven has been looking and acting toward you. I didn't want to admit it, not even to myself, but it made me so jealous sometimes I couldn't see straight. Having to watch you with her, and not being able to let myself say anything has been torture. And then tonight, watching Jenny rub herself all over you. I just . . ." She gave a rueful smile. "The green eyed monster had had enough, I guess."
Chakotay's face softened, but his eyes were still guarded. After so long, it was almost too much to hope for, that she would finally give in to the feelings he knew she had for him. "Okay, Kathryn, what do you want me to tell you? That I love you? That I've loved you from almost the first moment I put that Starfleet uniform back on and sat by your side. That it killed me inside to think of you and Mark together. Tell you that I fall asleep with your name on my lips, and I wake up in the morning touching the empty space beside me, hoping that one day you'll fill that emptiness. Tell you that the moment you walked into the room tonight you took my breath away. That beige dress practically begs my fingers to peel it slowly off you, until all that caresses your skin is my breath. Is that what you want to hear?"
Her eyes glistened with tears. "Have I been that stupid, Chakotay? That stubborn in thinking that all there was for me was this ship, getting this crew home, and to indulge in my feelings for you would be taking away from my responsibilities to Starfleet."
Chakotay chuckled, knowing that she really didn't expect an answer. He brushed the back of his hand against her cheek. "I remember you telling me one time that if you ever had any questions about `mating behavior' you'd know who to ask. Are you finally asking?" The last was whispered - a cross between a question and a plea.
"Chakotay," Kathryn said, leaning her body against him suggestively. She brushed her fingers against his lips. "Just say `yes'."
"Yes!" Paris exclaimed in a loud whisper, punching the air near his head. B'Elanna quickly clasped a hand over his mouth, and pulled him behind her, making a beeline for the mess hall.
Kathryn and Chakotay, engaged in a long-anticipated kiss, were oblivious to everything but each other.