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Once again, an unusual noise rang throughout the room, exactly the same as the nine times before it. It caught Chakotay's attention, making him sit up straighter in his chair. He looked around the room curiously, trying to be conspicuous, wondering what on earth it was. He could see nothing.
He sighed and settled back into the chair, trying to find a place that hadn't been moulded firmly by the shape of his backside. No one else appeared to have noticed, or perhaps they were simply too interested in what he himself had lost interest in hours before.
The sudden uncontrollable urge to yawn caught him off guard, and he quickly raised his hand to cover his mouth. His eyes wandered across the table he was sitting at, sincerely hoping that nobody had noticed, but realised he was bound to be caught sooner or later.
The leaders of the La'Kati council appeared to be as absorbed in their tasks as they had five hours ago. They hadn't noticed his slip. 'Five hours' Chakotay thought. 'How long could it take to negotiate such a simple trade?'
Believing his actions had gone un-noticed, a sense of security washed over him. But all too soon, he felt the unmistakable sensation of being watched. Instinctively his eyes moved to his left, already knowing what he would find when he looked up.
Darn, she'd caught him.
Captain Janeway was animatedly discussing something with one of the La'Kati leaders. With a sideways glance her eyes caught his, a sparkle of amusement visible, as well as traces of a barely contained grin. Chakotay's cheeks grew warmer, embarrassed he had been caught, but at the same time relieved she was grinning at him rather than glaring.
He inwardly shook himself, coaxing his boredom-riddled mind to wake up and pay attention. He watched her as she finished speaking, and realised somewhat grudgingly that she appeared as alert and as fresh as she had that morning.
His eyes lingered on her, watching her graceful movements and confident demeanour, so was caught unawares when she suddenly looked straight at him. The aliens were now talking among themselves, their hushed voices mere background noise.
'Feeling a little tired Commander?' her look said.
Chakotay tugged on his ear lobe, debating how to respond, but the next look she threw him left no doubt she knew exactly how he felt.
He shifted in his chair and sent an, 'I don't know what you mean,' look in her direction. He knew she wasn't fooled, but he was enjoying this too much to put an end to it.
But before she could respond, Makar, leader of the negotiations interrupted, claiming their attention.
"Captain, I believe we have arrived at a satisfactory conclusion," he began. "We'd be honoured to do trade with you."
Chakotay felt the air rush from his lungs, relief washing over him. Finally. He followed his Captain's lead, moving to stand alongside her, wincing slightly as his muscles complained. At the La'Kati's farewell, Chakotay replaced it with a smile, hoping it appeared genuine.
"Captain Janeway, would you and your crew like to join our people this evening? General festivities are being held throughout the community."
"We wouldn't want to intrude Makar," Janeway said politely.
"Oh not at all Captain, you would not be intruding. Please, join us this evening in the Garabel, we will be holding the celebrations there," Marak insisted. "And of course your crew are more than welcome also."
Something in the way he said that caught Chakotay's attention. He wasn't quite sure, but it almost sounded as if there were more to that invitation. He didn't like it.
But Kathryn hadn't appeared to have noticed and with a smile, she accepted, and they said goodbye.
Heading towards the transporter site, Chakotay fell into step beside the Captain, boredom now replaced with thoughts of the coming evening.
"It was a timepiece."
"What?" Chakotay asked confused, his thoughts still elsewhere.
"You wanted to know what the noise in the room was," Janeway repeated. "It was a timepiece, on the wall behind you."
Chakotay simply stopped dead in his tracks, shaking his head, staring after her in amazement.
"You know, that wasn't too bad at all," Kathryn commented, referring to the light snack she and Chakotay had just shared in the messhall.
"My lips are sealed," Chakotay replied. "The last time I made a comment like that I paid for it a few hours later." He winced slightly as memories of Neelix's Riterian crackers returned, upsetting his stomach at the mere thought.
Kathryn's snigger startled him and he glanced at her in annoyance.
"It's not funny Kathryn. You weren't the one who turned an alarming shade of green on the bridge." Chakotay's indignant look only made her laugh harder and he shook his head in exasperation. He still had to put up with Tom's teasing every time Riterian crackers were on the menu.
"I'll remember how much sympathy you deserve when it happens to you," he added, trying to stay annoyed. But Kathryn's laughter was infectious, and soon he couldn't help but join in.
Still chuckling, they entered transporter room one, nodding and smiling to the ensign on duty.
"Beam us down a short distance from the city," Kathryn ordered as they walked onto the transporter padd and prepared themselves.
"Aye Captain," the young man replied. With a farewell nod to his superior officers he initiated transport.
Seconds later, the Captain and Commander materialised on the surface of the planet near the outskirts of the city. They stood on a gently sloping hillside, the edge of a large evergreen forest behind them, mesmerised by the view before them.
The planet's twin suns had begun their descent to the horizon, a blaze of oranges, reds and yellows trailing behind them. The light cast a beautiful haze over everything it settled on, reminding them both very much of a much missed planet in another quadrant.
To the north lay miles upon miles of fields, unfamiliar crops growing in abundance. To the west and south, the main La'Kati city lay partly in shadow from the dimming light, while other parts began to glow from soft artificial illumination.
"Well," Kathryn said dragging her eyes from the spectacular view, "I think we better go. We'll be late if we wait much longer."
"Okay," Chakotay agreed, dragging his own eyes from Kathryn. He held out his right arm for her to take and she did so, and bodies slightly touching and arms linked, they began walking. They followed what appeared to be a well-worn path towards the Garabel, the blue green grass soft underneath their feet.
Chakotay enjoyed the comfortable silence that settled between them, breaking it occasionally to comment on their surroundings. He watched Kathryn carefully, noticing how relaxed she was, her natural curiosity for the environment lighting her up.
As they walked, a gentle breeze picked up, refreshingly cool after the day's heat. It brought with it the quiet rustling of the near-by trees, and faint strains of music floated from the Garabel as they neared their destination.
Soon they entered the city and recalling the position of the Garabel they moved south. But it would have been impossible to miss the entrance to the Garabel. Hordes of people all appeared to be moving in one direction, laughing merrily and talking as they headed towards the celebration. Kathryn and Chakotay paused watching with keen interest all that was happening around them.
"This looks like it will be some celebration," Kathryn commented.
"I'd love to see how they celebrate the important traditions if this is anything to go by," Chakotay replied as he watched people hurrying past them.
Kathryn looked up at him and grinned. "Well let's go, we wouldn't want to miss it."
Once again they moved onwards, arms still linked, joining the throngs of La'Kati. Now and then they saw a familiar face, many of Voyager's crew having decided to attend.
Soon the outer structure of the Garabel appeared before them. It was circular in shape, large white pillars made of stone climbing higher than forty feet into the air. Each pillar was placed about ten feet apart, and from the top of each, an ivy like plant with white and lilac blossoms hung down, occasionally wrapping their vines around the entire pillar.
Their breath caught at the site. It was hard to recall seeing such a beautiful structure, and certainly not here in the Delta quadrant. After taking a moment, they slowly walked into the inner area, wondering what would reveal itself next.
The Garabel was huge. Four paths led into its centre from each entrance, each one at ninety degrees around its circumference. Each path was lit by a procession of flaming torches, giving a mystical quality to the place. Grass carpeted the outer circle, and as they followed the path to the centre, they noticed the grass became replaced with small white bricks, countless tables and chairs scattered across them. The centre of the Garabel stood empty, for the moment, obviously meant for dancing.
Even in the short time it took them to walk nearer the centre, many of the tables and chairs began to fill. Chakotay looked around trying to find an unoccupied table, finally spotting one for two not far away.
"Over there," Chakotay pointed, unconsciously placing his arm around Kathryn's waist to guide her to the table.
Settling into their table, Chakotay looked up and watched as Kathryn scanned their surroundings. He was pleased to see she had relaxed completely now, definitely Kathryn and not the Captain. She was obviously looking forward to the evening ahead.
The faint strains they had heard from the hillside were now much louder. The music appeared to be building up to something and Chakotay noticed people began to leave their seats for the dancing area.
Not wanting to wait, Chakotay leaned closer, placing one large hand over Kathryn's smaller one.
"Would you like to dance?"
Without hesitation, Kathryn nodded, and Chakotay smiled. The evening was off to a great start. Quickly standing, he moved round behind her chair ready to escort her to the floor. But before they could leave, Makar appeared from no-where.
"Captain, what a pleasure and an honour to see you here. I'm so glad you could attend."
Chakotay grimaced, silently berating the alien's timing. Makar hadn't even acknowledged his presence.
"Thank you for the invitation Makar," Kathryn replied politely apparently unaware of Chakotay's reaction.
"Captain, would you do me the honour of being my first?"
Chakotay eyed Makar carefully, and ever so slightly closed the gap between himself and Kathryn.
"I'm sorry?" Kathryn was clearly puzzled.
"Would you be my first dance partner Captain? It is an honour in our society."
Chakotay waited for what he knew would come next. Kathryn looked up at him, apology written across her face. He nodded, acutely aware it was the only thing she could do. He watched as Makar, instead of himself, led Kathryn to the floor for the first dance.
Letting out a long sigh, Chakotay sat in the seat Kathryn had just vacated, letting his chin drop to his palms. And things had started out so well.
The music that had been playing unobtrusively in the background suddenly changed and Chakotay couldn't help but look up. All around him, more people began to leave their seats and head for the dance floor. Searching the area, he soon spotted Kathryn with Makar and he didn't like what he saw.
Makar was standing far too close to Kathryn for his liking, his arm held her just a little too tightly, and he definitely didn't like the look in his eyes. He would have to intervene as soon as this dance ended. Chakotay grimaced as he realised what Kathryn would do if she knew what he was thinking. Best not to go there.
He pulled his eyes from the dancing couple and tried to relax and simply enjoy the music. Just as he thought he was getting there, he felt a hand come down on his back, and startled, he jumped and turned around.
Behind him stood B'Elanna, a big grin on her face, apparently amused at something. Before he could say anything, she spoke first.
"Like to dance Chakotay?"
"Where's Tom?" It wasn't what he meant to say to her, but it was what came out. B'Elanna didn't seem to mind though and simply answered his question.
"The Doctor needed his help with something, he'll be here soon. So, do you want to dance or not?"
"Yes of course," Chakotay said, even sounding resigned to his own ears.
Together they headed for the already full dance floor and joined the other couples.
Fifteen minutes later, they were still dancing.
"Will this ever end?" B'Elanna asked. "No offence Chakotay, but I didn't expect we'd be dancing this long."
"None taken," Chakotay said absently, his body and feet moving in time with the music, while his thoughts were elsewhere.
He had tried not to, he truly had, but he couldn't stop himself from looking for Kathryn and Makar.
Finally he spotted them, near the other end of the dance floor. He kept them in his line of vision not wanting to loose them again.
Thankfully, five minutes later, the first dance ended. As the same time, Tom appeared by his side. Only vaguely aware of what he said, he thanked B'Elanna for the dance and said goodbye to them.
Weaving his way through the crowds he made his way towards Kathryn. For minutes he felt as though he were getting no-where, it was as though everyone was moving in the opposite direction just to thwart him.
Finally he was mere metres from her, and just as he was about to call on her, someone stepped directly in front of him.
Looking down he saw Makar's First Minister Reba, whom he had met briefly at the negotiations.
"Commander Chakotay, would you like to share the next dance with me?"
Chakotay desperately wanted to say no but thank you, but like Makar's invitation to Kathryn, it couldn't be turned down.
"Of course First Minister Reba, I would be honoured." Letting his breath out slowly to calm himself, Chakotay moved into the appropriate position, ready to dance.
He looked towards Reba, but over her shoulders he suddenly caught sight of Kathryn. She was standing in a similar position, looking his way.
'At least,' thought Chakotay, 'she isn't dancing with Makar anymore.'
He smiled, and she shrugged ever so slightly, at least partially aware of what he was thinking.
Then the music began and in a flurry of motion, his view was blocked by eager dancers.
This dance followed the same pattern as the previous one, as did the many after it. They were all at least fifteen minutes long and very repetitive. This, at least, Chakotay was thankful for, he doubted he would have recalled all the steps if there had been a great many of them.
But as the evening went on, he grew more frustrated with the situation. Every time a dance ended and he tried to make his way to Kathryn, one of them would be interrupted by a well meaning La'Kati. And unfortunately, the well meaning La'Kati Makar, had danced with Kathryn too many times for his liking.
Another dance finally finished, Chakotay carried out the same routine and looked around for Kathryn. Spotting her, he said goodbye to his latest partner and with determined steps moved towards her.
With every step that took him closer, Chakotay grew more certain that someone would stop him from reaching her. He braced himself, expecting to have to force his way across the floor, but he was surprised to find the crowd posed no problem.
Kathryn's back was turned to him as he reached her, and he overheard her saying thank you to someone. All thoughts of how he should be acting pushed aside, Chakotay interrupted as politely as possible.
"Captain," he began, "Sorry for intruding, but would you like to dance?"
"I'd love to," she replied.
Finally Chakotay thought.
"Excuse me Captain, but that was the final dance."
"Really?" Kathryn sounded as surprised as he felt.
"The last dance is determined by the position of the moon. The piece of music we just heard is traditionally played at the end of our celebration."
With a faint nod the man left them, and they stood alone in a corner of a now almost empty dance floor. They watched as people began to leave the Garabel, even the tables seemed to have emptied at an amazing rate.
This time Chakotay couldn't stop a sigh escaping. This evening had not gone as he had intended. He tried not to show it, but he was sure Kathryn had picked up on it.
"Why don't we walk back the way we came in?" she suggested. With as big a smile as he could muster, Chakotay said he would love to, and just like earlier in the evening, he held out his arm. And just like earlier in the evening she took it and together they left the Garabel.
Some time later they found themselves in the exact spot to which they had beamed down earlier. The edge of the forest was now in almost complete darkness, the suns having set long ago. The only light, came from the crescent moon overhead, it's silver rays shining across the land.
"Oh it is beautiful," Kathryn said.
"Yes, very beautiful."
Chakotay didn't bother to try and hide anything, the evening was over and they could now be themselves.
"I was talking about the view."
"So was I," Chakotay replied not taking his eyes from Kathryn.
"Are you very disappointed?" she asked moving closer.
"I will admit I had been looking forward to sharing at least one dance with you," he admitted. He also moved closer. Then he thought of something.
"Would you like to dance Kathryn?"
She looked up at him surprised.
"Why not here and yes now."
Smiling she moved into his arms and he held her close to his body. This he had been waiting for all evening. Sighing, he wrapped his arms completely around her, enclosing her in his warm embrace. He allowed his head to drop atop hers, closed his eyes and inhaled deeply.
"Much better," he mumbled.
"I thought I would never escape from Makar," she said quietly. They began to sway. "Every time I turned round he was there, waiting for another dance."
"I noticed," Chakotay answered. "I tried to get to you but I was always interrupted. If I didn't know better I would have thought it was a conspiracy."
He felt her gentle laugh against his chest. They continued to sway.
"But this is much better," he repeated, the sentence suddenly interrupted with a yawn. Kathryn pulled back slightly and looked at him more closely.
"Feeling a little tired Commander?"
"Can you blame me?" He looked down at her with affection. "I seem to remember a certain Captain keeping me up most of the night and then I had to sit through five hours of pointless negotiations."
"I won't do it again if you prefer, keep you up all night that is," she suggested raising an eyebrow playfully.
Placing his hand behind her head he drew her even closer. "I'm taking it for granted you will Kathryn." And with those final words he kissed her, their dance forgotten.
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