|Kathryn Janeway yawned. It had been a
long day and although negotiations with Engren, leader of the Marani, went on for a good
six hours, they were still far away from any kind of agreement.
Entering the spacious main room of the suite the Marani had given her, she thought about taking a bath and going to bed but as she had plans for this evening, she just took a quick shower and left her room about ten minutes later.
Heading towards the local market, she was surprised to find that the streets were still crowded and she had trouble fighting her way through the narrow streets. Reaching her destination some minutes later, she soon became engrossed in the goods offered in the candle lit booths and so she didn't notice a familiar figure approaching from behind.
"Captain Janeway, I didn't know you were going to visit the market as well."
It was B'Elanna Torres. Turning around Janeway smiled at her. "Good evening, B'Elanna. Well, truth to be told I wasn't sure I would make it here at all. Engren is a nice man but quite tiring after a while."
B'Elanna nodded. "I know. And excuse me for saying so, but he isn't the brightest man I ever encountered. When we had our first break, he talking about the replicator technique they are using here but as it turned out he doesnt understand a thing about it at all. Though the worst thing was that he didnt even realize that everything he said was nonsense. Of course, it doesn't help that the average Marani is a good seven feet tall. My neck is still stiff from looking up all day." She rolled her eyes causing Janeway to smile again.
"So, are you just window shopping or 'actually' shopping?" Although BElanna smiled, her tense posture and her nervous flickering gaze made Kathryn realize that the situation made BElanna uncomfortable. People on Voyager werent used to small talk with the captain.
Volunteering a sad smile in return she sighed. "Actually, I wanted to do some shopping for the senior officers Christmas party but I honestly have no idea what to get anyone."
BElanna nodded, her gaze scanning the booths next to them. "I dont have any gifts either and Ive got no idea what people might appreciate." Her expression turned into a grimace. "I hate shopping."
Janeway chuckled. "Me either. I never got the excitement of my mother and sister when they went on their shopping sprees. Whenever they managed to drag me along, I usually ended in some bookstore alone."
The two women shared another smile and an idea formed in Janeways mind. "Listen, BElanna. It seems we are both in the same predicament so why dont we just help each other?"
B'Elanna looked unsure for a moment but then she nodded. "Why not? I am grateful for any help I can get."
Together they set off and three hours later each of them had managed to get some gifts.
"My feet are hurting like hell." B'Elanna said carefully navigating around a group of Marani. "And can you believe that we have only seen about a quarter of that market?"
"I can assure you my feet don't feel any better. Although you have to see the positive side; knowing Engren negotiations will most probably take another four or five days and that will give us plenty of time to get the rest of the gifts and see the rest of the market. " Janeway sighed. "Let's take a last look at this booth and then head back to the hotel."
Approaching the booth she saw a merchant offering small crystal balls. They were filled with smoke but once customers held one, it changed color, some became blue, others green, most of them yellow. Janeway looked at B'Elanna who shrugged and obviously had no idea how this transformation worked either.
Janeway caught the eye of the merchant who looked down at her smiling. "Are you interested in our magic crystal balls?"
"Magic?" Janeway raised her eyebrow. "You don't expect me to believe that there's magic involved, do you? I might be interested but only if you tell me how they work."
The man still smiled and nodded. "Magic might not be involved but I heard that some people thought the consequences of their purchase to be magic. You see this little ball is able to read your feelings and express it through the different colors."
"Read our feelings?" B'Elanna laughed out loud. "Come on, you don't think you can fool us with that."
The smile of the man faltered slightly. "I see you two aren't to be convinced." He leaned down to them and started to whisper. "Most people aren't interested in knowing the secret of the crystal balls but I am going to tell you. They react to your body's chemistry. Even slight changes in your feelings or in your health will affect your body's chemistry and these balls react to your body's sweat. Depending on how your feeling at that particular moment, you pick up the ball different colors will appear and all of them have different meanings. For example, yellow means that you feel happy, green means that you're angry or unhappy, blue that you are pregnant and black that you're ill."
The merchant paused and broke into a warm smile before continuing. "Although the most beautiful color to appear will always be red. When you give one of these balls to a person and it turns red, you'll know this person is in love with you. I've seen many a pair come together because one of these." The man straightened up again. "So might I interest you in purchasing one?"
Kathryn Janeway looked thoughtful for a moment then shook her head. "Intriguing, but no thanks. I don't think that's what we're looking for."
The merchant looked at B'Elanna who also shook her head.
"Your loss, ladies." They watched at the man turned away, shaking his head.
B'Elanna couldn't help but laugh.
That night, Kathryn Janeway couldn't sleep. Her body was tired and her feet were still aching but her mind wouldn't stop racing.
She had enjoyed herself those few hours with B'Elanna yet it had made her realize that she was too lonely most of the time. On the ship she kept mostly to herself, trying to keep her distance and not wanting to impose on people. She couldn't change it; a captain always had to keep a certain distance. A crew had to know that someone capable, someone strong was leading them. They shouldn't see her vulnerable side, her human side. They needed someone they could trust explicitly. Yet how did such a responsibility match with being lost for good? How long would she be able to distance herself from everyone? And should she?
She turned again, lying on her back now.
Who could she really call her friend and how well did she know her crew? Yes, she had Chakotay and Tuvok, both of them she considered to be good friends but what with the rest of her crew?
What about Tom Paris, Kes, the Doctor, Harry Kim and what about B'Elanna Torres? What did she know of them besides the obvious? What where their likes and dislikes? What where their hopes and dreams?
Sleep finally came and for the moment all questions were put to rest.
"Do you think Neelix might like this?" B'Elanna held up a brightly colored stripped vest for Janeway to see.
Looking at the piece of clothing B'Elanna had chosen, Kathryn broke into a smile. "It's certainly bright enough to match with his other clothes. There must be at least eight different colors in it." She moved over to where B'Elanna was standing and lifted a pair of yellow trousers. "What do you say? You get him the vest and I'll buy him this pair of trousers to go along with it."
B'Elanna shook her head and smiled. "Sure. But don't think I don't know what you're planning"
Kathryn looked puzzled. "Planning?"
"Of course. In these clothes, you'll be able to spot him form the other end of the ship. He won't be able to surprise you any weird ideas anymore ."
Janeway raised her eyebrow at her senior officer's subtle teasing but appeared to think for a moment. "Hmm. That's something I hadn't considered but I have to admit that you certainly have a point." Then she smile. "That settles it. I'll buy it." As B'Elanna's laughter rang out, she turned to the merchant and paid for the trousers. She took the bag from the merchant then placed a hand on her stomach as it growled for food as she waited for B'Elanna to finish her own purchase.
"Listen, I'm returning to the hotel. I hadn't have something to eat since the early morning. Of course you might want to stay but...," she hesitated a second before carrying on, "but if you'd like, you could join me for dinner."
Unlike yesterday B'Elanna showed no surprise at Janeway's offer. "Thanks. I'd like to have some dinner. I am starved."
Janeway smiled. She was glad that B'Elanna had accepted the invitation. At least her company would help her to keep her thoughts at bay that hadn't left her alone since the previous night.
While they ate, B'Elanna took a moment to observe Voyager's captain. She looked different some how. Then it dawned on her. Relaxed. She looked relaxed. As thoughts ran through her mind, she suddenly realized she'd been caught staring.
Uncharacteristically flustered, she turned her focus to the plate of food before her. "Sorry," she mumbled.
"Everything ok?" asked Kathryn around her mouthful of food.
"Um, yeah. I was just thinking."
"If I'm not prying, may I ask about what?"
B'Elanna took a deep breath. "You, actually."
Kathryn's eyes grew wide, her eyebrows raising slightly. "Me?"
"You seem relaxed."
Kathryn thought for a moment. "I guess I am." She took another bite of food. "You, um were initially uncomfortable when we started shopping yesterday."
Startled, B'Elanna coughed as she swallowed her drink then gave the captain a sheepish grin. "I was that transparent, huh?"
"I wouldn't call it 'transparent'. I'm very aware of how the crew react to me."
"Captain, I didn't mean to "
Kathryn shook her head held up her hand. "No. Trust me, I understand better than you think." Kathryn looked down at her food then back the other woman. "B'Elanna, I was wondering if you would call me 'Kathryn'? I mean, we are off duty and "
B'Elanna opened her mouth in surprise. "Of of course."
Kathryn pierced what looked like a carrot with her two-pronged utensil and cleared her throat. "So, how many more presents do you need to get?"
It was an hour before dawn when BElanna opened the door which connected hers and Kathryns room. She switched on the light and knocked on the door, not wanting to intrude any further.
She had to wait less than a minute before a still sleepy Kathryn came to open the door and her eyes widened when she spotted BElanna.
"B'Elanna?" said a surprised Janeway.
B'Elanna stared for a moment before she was able to speak. She was struck by the softness that has replaced the protocol and decorum she normally saw there. The captain was wearing a satin rose-colored nightgown and her hair, slightly mussed was loose around her shoulders. The glow of the lights behind the captain had a halo effect and the light from B'Elanna's room added sparkle to the blue-grey eyes of the still drowsy woman.
"Did I wake you? I'm sorry to bother you, Captain...er, Kathryn." She corrected herself at the quirk of an elegant eyebrow.
"It's ok. Is there any problem?"
B'Elanna rolled her eyes. "Harry just hailed me. It's seems that there's something with the replicators and because of the Christmas party people are starting to panic. And by people, I mean Neelix." Janeway couldn't help but laugh at that remark.
"I promised Harry I'd beam up as soon as possible. If that's ok with you, that is? I mean because of the negotiations."
Kathryn nodded. "Don't worry about it. You just take care of the replicators."
"Thanks, Captain. I'll be on my way then."
"Just let me know when you figured out the problem."
When the door closed behind B'Elanna, she closed her eyes and took a breath. She had never seen the captain with her hair down and she was a little startled by her own reaction. "Get a grip on yourself, B'Elanna," she muttered to herself.
Negotiations finally over, the captain approved shore leave for the crew, in hopes that it might make the holiday a little better for them and for her and she made her way to engineering in hopes of doing just that.
After arriving in Engineering, Janeway walked toward B'Elanna who was kneeling under a console.
"Lieutenant?" Her voice sounded more commanding that she intended.
The reply was a sharp thud from underneath the console, followed by a string of Klingon curses. When the chief engineer finally stood to face her, the captain was hard pressed to keep a grin from tugging at the corners of her mouth. "I didn't mean to startle you," she said, her voice softer. "Are you alright?"
B'Elanna brushed the dirt from her uniform. "Yeah. Uh, Sorry. Those weren't directed at you. It was a kind of reflex," she said, giving the captain sheepish grin.
Janeway couldn't keep from laughing any longer. "I know." She clasped her fingers in front of her as her expression relaxed. "I was wonder if you were heading down to the planet."
B'Elanna looked puzzled. " Why? Do you need me for something? I thought the negotiations were over." B'Elanna recognized the flicker of vulnerability that passed across the commanding officer's features.
"Well, since I've authorized a day of shore leave, I wanted to know if you'd join me for dinner again." She brought her lips together in a hopeful expression. "My treat?"
B'Elanna was genuinely surprised and hesitated before she responded. "Sure, Captain."
Janeway smiled. "Great! I'll meet you in front of that same restaurant in, say, an hour?"
B'Elanna nodded. "Casual dress?"
"You bet!" The captain flashed another smile her way then strode quickly out of engineering.
B'Elanna leaned back against the wall of the building waiting for Janeway. She noticed a woman walking toward her and slowly realized it was Kathryn Janeway. She was wearing a sleeveless navy blue pantsuit with matching boots. Her hair was free from it usual bun and hung free about her shoulders and disappeared down her back. B'Elanna was so taken by the image before her she didn't even notice the captain carrying a small bag.
B'Elanna smiled, almost feeling unusually shy. "Hello, Captain."
"Oh, right. Sorry Kathryn."
"Shall we go in? I'm starving."
When they were finished eating, Kathryn placed a small bag made of satin-like material in front of B'Elanna. "Merry Christmas, B'Elanna," said Kathryn, with a smile.
B'Elanna stared at the give then looked up at Kathryn with a smile. "Thank you," she said, as she handed a small package to Kathryn. "Same to you!"
"Thank you, B'Elanna."
"Okay." Kathryn carefully pulled the string away from the box . When she opened the box, she saw three hair barrettes made of unique metals and designs. "Oh B'Elanna. They're beautiful!"
B'Elanna could tell by the tone of the other woman's voice, she was touched.
"I'm glad you like them," she said with a pleased smile."
When Kathryn looked up, B'Elanna saw that the command guise had slipped away and Kathryn, the woman, what whom she was clearly seeing.
"I don't just like them, B'Elanna. I love them." Kathryn's voice was thick with emotion. She cleared her throat and pointed to the bag in front of B'Elanna. "Your turn."
B'Elanna took the small bag into her hands and was astonished by how heavy it was. She looked up at Kathryn but she just smiled at her.
The bag was tied with strings and B'Elanna opened them carefully and pulled a small box from the bag, gasping when she pulled the top off. Inside was a small crystal ball, the kind they saw in the marketplace. She looked at Janeway in wonder. "You went back and bought one?"
Kathryn gave her a crooked grin. "I hope you like it. I couldnt get them out of my mind. I went back to the market on my last night on planet and when I passed that booth again, I couldn't resist picking up one of the crystal balls. It turned green."
"And green means?"
"Anger or unhappiness. It was exactly what I felt that second. I spent six days on this planet but we could have reached an agreement in one if we had only wanted. I hate to waste time like this."
"So you think I could need one of those? So that people will know what my mood is before they have to deal with me." She laughed out.
"No, of course that's not it. It's just that I've had fun shopping in the marketplace with you, I wanted you to have something might remind you of our time here on this plant."
B'Elanna glanced at the captain, then back at the crystal ball. "I like it ,Kathryn. Very much! Thank you."
"Now let's see what this ball says about my mood, shall we?" B'Elanna lifted her hand to pick up the ball, hesitating slightly before finally grasping the small orb.
Both women watched as the smoke inside swirled slowly as it turned yellow. A large grin formed on B'Elanna's face as the looked up at Kathryn. "Looks like it works," she said. She opened her mouth to continue when Kathryn's facial expression changed. "Captain? What's wrong?"
"B'Elanna the ball... it's "
The engineer looked down and saw that at the smoke in the ball was now crimson, a dark red, very close to the color of a garnet stone.
B'Elanna's mouth fell open. The ball slipped from her fingers back into the box as she lifted her head to look into Kathryn unsettled blue-grey eyes.
The surprise on the captain's face was evident.
B'Elanna opened her mouth to speak. "I "
"Hello, you two." Chakotay appeared at their table, oblivious to the moment he was interrupting.
B'Elanna could feel Kathryn's eyes on her as she put the top back on the box and placed it in the bag. "Hello, Chakotay."
The commander frowned. "Did I interrupt something?"
Still evading the captain's eyes, B'Elanna looked up at Voyager's first officer. "Um... No." She glanced at Kathryn. "I have to get back to the ship."
Still silent, Kathryn nodded and watched as B'Elanna practically fled from the restaurant.
Chakotay sat down in B'Elanna's seat. "Are you sure I didn't I interrupt anything?" he asked again.
As though suddenly aware of his presence, Kathryn finally looked at the commander. "What? Oh. Not really. I guess we were done."
Chakotay glanced in the direction B'Elanna went. "Something wrong?"
Kathryn pursed her lips then sighed. "I'm not sure yet."
Kathryn hurried towards the holodeck. The general party Christmas would only start at 2000 hours., but the senior officers met an hour earlier and five minutes after 1900 hours, Kathryn reached the holodeck. When the doors opened she stopped dead in her tracks at the view before her.
She found herself in a large, rustic cabin. A fire was blazing in a fireplace that was almost occupying half of a wall and a huge Christmas tree stood in one corner, it's soft light creating shadows that danced on the furniture.
Her senior officers occupied the comfortable looking armchairs in front of the fireplace and she waved in greeting.
The opening of the door behind her startled her and she turned to see Chakotay dressed in casual black pants and a white turtleneck sweater. When he saw her standing in the entrance he stopped and broke into a smile looking her up and down.
"Kathryn, you look beautiful tonight. Is this a new dress?"
Kathryn looked down herself and congratulated herself again on buying the dark blue dress that shimmered in different shades of blue the soft light. Since the dress was sleeveless, a matching shawl adorned her shoulders.
"Yes, I bought it down on the planet. But you dont look halfway bad yourself."
"Thanks. So, you went back to the planet again?
"Engren wanted to have a look at our shore leave plan so that he knows exactly who will be down there when." She rolled her eyes. "I thought it best to deliver it personally before he thinks twice. But lets catch up on all that tomorrow." Her eyes scanned the room. "I love what youve done with the holodeck."
"That was Neelixs idea," Chakotay said. "He looked through the databases for days searching for the perfect Christmas scenario." He looked around the room before his gaze wandered back to her. "Its good to have you back for good. After the first four days we started to fear they would keep you down there forever."
She rolled her eyes again and took Chakotays arm, setting off towards the others.
"I know and I swear the next time theres something to negotiate, the pleasure will all yours."
Chakotay chuckled. "Why, thank you. It's very kind of you to think of me."
She smiled sweetly at him. "Dont mention it, Chakotay. Isnt that what friends are for?"
"Captain Janeway. Come and have a seat." Tom Paris called out to her and patted to the armchair next to him. "Would you like some punch?"
For the next several minutes she talked with Tom and Harry and the harmless banter helped her to relax for the first time in days. In the last two years, the ship had started to become a home to her and the crew a family. As she leaned back in her armchair and looked around the room, Kathryn noticed that Kes and BElanna were the only ones still missing and she wondered what might have kept them.
Her thoughts wandered back to moment B'Elanna picked up the crystal ball.
The look in B'Elanna's eyes had told her that the orb 'spoke' the truth and there were moments since then when Kathryn regretted not going after her. However, something deep inside held her back. A truth of her own that she chose not to acknowledge. And yet, at the same time, she could not deny it, especially now that there seemed to be a possibility that B'Elanna Her thoughts faded away she saw B'Elanna and Kes standing in the doorway.
B'Elanna and Kes made their way over to them but although B'Elanna was smiling she avoided the captain's eyes at all costs and didn't so much as glance into her direction.
Kathryn couldn't help but wonder if she had done anything to encourage any feelings in the young woman and what her own feelings in that matter were. Chakotay who came up behind her interrupted her thoughts as he handed her a glass of punch and took one of the armchairs beside her.
"Do you have any idea what's up with B'Elanna? Since she beamed back on board two days ago she's been jumpy and moody."
Kathryn took a sip of her punch before answering. "Moody? Well, I have no idea but I haven't seen her the last days. Is it a problem? Do you need me to talk with her? Chakotay shook his head. "Fine. So when will you go down on the planet for the rest of your shore leave?"
As they continued their conversation, the official party began and the cabin started to fill with people. Voyager's crew, her crew, looked happy and relaxed and Kathryn spent some time just looking - people talking, dancing and exchanging presents.
When she spotted B'Elanna alone looking out of a window, she decided it was time to speak to her. Pulling on her captain 'persona', she held it close as she approached the engineer. Outside of the window, the world was dark and heavy snowflakes were falling slowly to the ground. B'Elanna gave her quick look before looking away again and for a while they just watched the snowflake's dancing together. Some of them clung to the window and Kathryn admired their intricate patterns. It was a pity that something so unique and beautiful was meant to melt just within a few seconds.
"Chakotay says you've been quite moody lately."
B'Elanna straightened and finally her eyes met Kathryn's. "I am sorry, Captain. It won't happen again."
"It's ok and I'm sure it won't. But ... do you want to talk about it?"
B'Elanna lifted her chin. "What's there the talk about?"
Kathryn turned her head to face the engineer. "Never kid a kidder, B'Elanna."
"I don't try to." She turned her face away again. "You saw the same thing I did, but would you believe me that I was as much surprised as you were?"
"Yes. I would." Kathryn turned her head to face the window again, staring at their reflections. She wanted to admit her own feelings, but objections began screaming in her head so she bit her tongue. Instead she said, "And it's ok, B'Elanna."
B'Elanna snorted. "You think it's ok? Well, I don't think so. It's easy to say it's ok when you are not the one who feels like a wreck. For days I've tried to make sense out of it but I can't. How ... how can you fight against ... feelings ... that you don't even want to admit. Feelings you haven't been aware of?"
Kathryn closed her eyes as she tried to control the emotions coursing through her veins. Finally, after several moments, she spoke. "In my experience, I've learned that it doesn't work to fight emotions," she said, her voice quiet. "You don't always have control over them. But what you can control is how you react to them. It's not always easy and you don't always succeed. Nonetheless, sometimes that control is all you have."
Sensing that there was something the captain wasn't saying, B'Elanna turned slowly to face her.
Before she could open her mouth to respond, Neelix appeared, staring at them with a smile on his face.
When they looked at him, he simply pointed above their heads.
They both froze at the sight of the mistletoe.
"Neelix, you ... you can't expect us to kiss." B'Elanna almost stuttered and she blushed.
"It's tradition! It's fun! What's the big deal? It's just a little kiss." Neelix beamed at her before turning to Kathryn.
"Surely you agree, Captain Janeway?"
"Well... I ..." Kathryn looked from Neelix to B'Elanna, noticing that the room suddenly seemed to become quiet.
As she stared into her dark eyes, Kathryn felt visage of command slip away and she looked at B'Elanna with twinkling blue-grey eyes and a small crooked grin. "Who am I to shirk tradition?" she said before pressing her lips gently against those of a very astonished B'Elanna.
She felt a shiver running down her back and in B'Elanna's eyes she saw that she wasn't the only one affected. Around them people were clapping and Kathryn smiled at them. She looked at B'Elanna.
"I think we should finish this discussion later." She smiled at the young woman. Merry Christmas, B'Elanna."
"Merry Christmas, Kathryn," B'Elanna whispered. "I... "
"Kathryn, there you are," Chakotay called out. "Hi, B'Elanna. Kathryn, can I persuade you to dance with me?" He smiled at her and when he offered her his arm she took him, leaving B'Elanna behind.
A minute later, while still in Chakotay's arms, her eyes scanned the room for B'Elanna but she had disappeared. Kathryn tried to turn her attention back to Chakotay but her thoughts drifted away. In the last days she not only got know another side of B'Elanna but she'd discovered different sides to herself as well. There were things about the young woman that appealed to her but where this would led her, she did not know.
Suddenly the dance was over and Chakotay offered her his arm again. She accepted and smiled to herself, knowing that time would reveal if there was meant to be more between them or not. For the time being she would just enjoy the memory of the feelings of B'Elanna's lips on hers.
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