DISCLAIMER: Janeway and Torres ain't mine. They belong to Paramount.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Okay, my first finished J/T Thank you to Annemaart for the betawork.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Torres picked up a flat pebble and threw it over the river, making it skip five times before it sank to the bottom. Bored, she started to look for a few more pebbles. Being part of a diplomatic team had never been her cup of tea, and she still didn't know why Janeway had ordered her to come along on this one.
Janeway had called a meeting of the senior staff to inform them all that they had made first contact with a friendly race of empaths. Not only did this offer a chance for shore leave but it also gave them an opportunity to trade for some needed supplies.
When the captain had announced her plans, B'Elanna, much to her surprise, found she was to be part of the diplomatic team. When she asked, Janeway had simply said she needed her input. Who better to explain about the ship's needs and trading possibilities than its chief engineer? Besides, she thought, it was time for a change of scenery for her hard pressed chief engineer.
Now, four days later, during a break from negotiations, B'Elanna nearly resented the captain for making her go through this; hour after hour of speeches, where she did very little more than sit and listen to Kathryn and Neelix. Truthfully, it left her more exhausted then a double shift in Engineering ever had.
What made it worse was that their hosts were a race of empaths, who had ensured them they would not let their negotiations be influenced by the feelings they picked up from their guests. Nonetheless B'Elanna had to call upon every lesson shared with Tuvok to keep a tight rain on her feelings. Boredom aside she was certain she had seen more than one amused glance directed at her during the past few days, which irritated her no end.
Of course, the captain was in her element and seeing her captain interact with their hosts had proved to be a welcome distraction. However the captain seemed to have forgotten about her presence, which again did not help her current mood. The only good thing about this mission, as far as she was concerned, was that she didn't have to spend any time with Tom who, by now, had made it amply clear he was going after Chakotay.
Just in case someone was near, the bored B'Elanna stifled the urge to scream. She was ready to swap jokes with Tuvok just to make things more interesting. How much longer would she be forced to sit there and listen?
Throwing yet another pebble, she watched it skip six times before sinking as well when she heard a familiar chuckle behind her.
Startled, B'Elanna turned and, to her surprise, she found that she was looking straight into the eyes of one of her hosts; a woman who had been introduced to her as Veraly.
"I am sorry, I did not mean to disturb you."
Trying to be polite, but resisting the urge to sigh, B'Elanna answered. "That's okay, I wasn't really doing anything."
"I have tried skipping pebbles since I was a kid but never got the hang of it. I throw the stone and it sinks when it hits the water."
Now how was she supposed to respond to that? "Um, it's not that difficult."
Her host, looking very human in appearance except for the colourful painting on her bald head, was trying very hard not to laugh. She hadn't tracked down the visitor's chief engineer to talk about pebble skipping but it seemed as good a conversational starter as any other.
"I would believe it is easier then having to sit through a meeting where you feel you have nothing to contribute, right?"
Looking up sharply, B'Elanna could readily see the amused glint in the woman's eyes. The fact that she was also an empath made denying it useless. Besides, the woman did not give her a chance to reply.
"Your captain, now... she enjoys the exchange, trying to work out the best possible deal for your vessel."
The half-Klingon nodded her agreement, or rather started to nod her agreement, again not getting any chance to get a reply in. Obviously Veraly was as big a conversationalist in private as she was in the diplomatic discussions.
"It really is a pleasure to watch her in action. The way she warms up to the subjects at hand, the energy that simply radiates from her, it is really something else."
"Yes, she..." B'Elanna started to agree, though she was uncertain where this conversation was leading. However, again the empath didn't seem to wait for a reply.
"It has never before happened that an off-worlder has impressed me so much. Therefore I asked her if she was interested in accompanying me to this evening's festivities, to celebrate our new-found friendship with the people of the Federation. Mind you I wasn't very subtle about my intentions for after the party." The woman started to laugh at her own actions. "I don't know why I bothered when it's obvious that her interests lie with someone else." At this the woman laughed knowingly.
True enough, B'Elanna thought, with a little bit of regret. Janeway and Seven had become nearly inseparable; no doubt they would be spending the rest of the shore leave together, now that the First Contact duties had nearly been concluded.
"Too bad, I am certain your captain would have enjoyed the experience. Making love with an empath would be unlike anything else she'd ever done."
B'Elanna blinked and started laughing as the possibilities entered her mind. Sexual feelings amplified by Valarek's empathic abilities would make it a very intense experience indeed. Perhaps she should feel sorry for the captain for missing out.
"Mind you, those feelings would be meaningless if she would rather be with you."
This time the amount of surprise and disbelief Valarek picked up from the brown-haired woman was so palpable that she had a real problem keeping her face straight.
"Me?" sputtered B'Elanna.
"Yup," the woman said nonchalantly, "I asked her if she would be interested in spending the night with me but all she was doing was looking at you."
Excitement momentarily flashed through B'Elanna before she realised that her superior had probably only used her as a polite excuse to get out of a date with this stranger.
B'Elanna was known for always having a reply ready but this woman just didn't give her any opportunity to say anything, purposely throwing the half-Klingon off base.
"Well, I've got to go, I will see you this evening."
Confused by the sudden change of topic, it took a while before B'Elanna recalled the planned festivities. "This evening?"
Veralek feigned her reaction as she innocently said, "Why yes, Kathryn Janeway is the guest of honour so, as her date, I am sure I will see you there. Bye now."
Off she went, leaving an open-mouthed half-Klingon to process her parting words. After standing rooted to the spot for a while, B'Elanna finally came to the only logical conclusion the woman must have misunderstood... something. She had better find the captain; she would know what to make of this.
As Varalek and Kataralon, the Virolans prime negotiator, walked away, Janeway wondered what to make of it all. She had been talking amiably with the prime about the successful conclusion of their talks when suddenly one of the negotiator's aids joined them.
Varalek had waited politely for a pause in the conversation but was quick to make known what she wanted. She had basically asked Voyager's captain out, and without being very subtle about her intentions. Now, in all her years in Starfleet, Janeway had believed few things could surprise her any more. However an outright invitation to spend the night with a stranger at the end of what was basically a first contact mission was not something that happened every day.
By now Janeway was very aware of how these Virolians behaved. Being empath's, they were always aware how someone else felt which, during their history, had made them an extremely honest and forward people.
After all, why bother with careful or polite responses if you knew how the other person felt anyway?
Now Janeway admitted Valarek was, in her own way, very attractive and appealing, but not enough for her to get involved with her in the few days they would remain here. Voyager's commanding officer knew she was talking to empaths's but she momentarily forgot about that as she frantically searched for an excuse that wouldn't offend her hosts.
"I am flattered by your offer, Valarek, but I am hoping someone else will be my partner for tonight."
"Ah, I apologise Kathryn," Valarek said with an easy smile. "Have we met your companion for this evening?"
Janeway blurted out the first name that came to mind. "Yes, B'Elanna Torres." Blinking at her own reply, Kathryn wondered why she had said she would go with B'Elanna. After spending nearly three consecutive days listening to the trade negotiations, into which she had more or less forced the half-Klingon, this might not be such a good idea. The last thing B'Elanna would want now would be to watch her be a diplomat for another evening, even if it was in a less formal setting.
Making her chief engineer part of the away team had been a last minute decision. Janeway had been worried about her chief, who had worked double shift after double shift ever since her break up with Paris. It had been a sneaky way of assuring the half-Human brunette got some rest, without having to order her to take a few days off, with the subsequent advantage that she could keep an eye on her officer, and B'Elanna would not be able to take work home.
Frowning slightly, Valarek said, "Forgive me Kathryn Janeway, but the impression I got from your chief engineer was that she would rather be anywhere else than in our company again."
Janeway nodded her agreement. "You are probably correct. B'Elanna only recently got out of a relationship that lasted nearly three years. I guess it's only natural that she's not interested in any social events. I also like to think that I know her a little, and she needs to get out more. I believe that if I am the doing the asking, she won't say no quite so quickly."
Besides the expressed reasons, Janeway also hoped that it would be the first step in renewing the closeness they had once shared. The two of them had grown very close their first couple of years on board Voyager, so close that there had been numerous speculations on the true status off their relationship. This had all changed rather suddenly when Seven had come on board, quickly followed by the start of B'Elanna's relation with Tom Paris. Busy with Seven as she was, and with one emergency after another, it had taken the captain a while before she noticed it. Gradually she started missing her friendship with the volatile chief until they barely met about anything other then ship's business.
She knew it hadn't helped that, often when B'Elanna had voiced a complaint against Seven, she had simply ordered the Klingon to put up with the former drone. At the time, her arguments had all seemed very true and no doubt they were, really, as Seven needed time to adjust to humanity. However, in hindsight, it hadn't been very fair towards B'Elanna. The engineer had to run one of Voyager's most vital departments, and with giving Seven so much leeway, she had seriously undermined B'Elanna's authority - if Seven was allowed to ignore the chief's orders, B'Elanna's other crew could, in all righteousness, do the same.
"Ahum, Kathryn Janeway?"
With a start, Kathryn realised her attention had wandered. "I'm sorry but what did you say?" she asked, a little embarrassed.
These humans were a constant source for amusement for the empaths. Valarek was pretty sure that the good captain did not realise the myriad of emotions she was transmitting. Just like she didn't seem to be aware of the depth of her feelings for the brooding lieutenant.
Exchanging a conspiratorial glance with her own superior, the prime negotiator was picking up the same things. She was not upset by being turned down, since there was little else that her people enjoyed more then bringing two lovers together, and this looked to be a challenge.
"I said, if that is the case, I will see you two tonight, but you will at least allow my rejected spirit to show you two around. Showing you the nicest little spots around will help you conquer your lieutnenant."
"Valarek, that is a really kind offer, but..."
As Lieutenant B'Elanna Torres would find out a little while later, Valarek didn't give you a chance to reply if she didn't want to.
"I have to go, I will see you tonight Captain Janeway." Without listening further, Valarek turned around and went off in search off one particular lieutenant.
Janeway tried to stop the departing female, but Kataralon prevented this by saying, "I will make arrangements then for the two off you to share my table together, for a dinner in your honour, if that suits you, Kathryn Janeway? We will do our best to make this an evening that the two of you will always wish to remember."
"Kataralon, as I've been trying to say," and now Kathryn allowed some exasperation to slip in her tone, "B'Elanna and I are only friends."
"Captain Janeway," the prime negotiator sounded irritated and it was also one off the few times he had addressed her by her rank instead of her name. "Do not try to fool an empath, it is futile."
Taken aback by his behaviour, Janeway tried to find an appropriate reply, but she didn't need to.
"I understand that sometimes it is hard for visiting species to deal with us empaths. Now, after all the hard work we've put in the last few days, and the trust we have built up, you are not calling me a fool, are you Captain?"
"Of course not..."
"Good," came the satisfied reply. "Now, tonight's festivities are in your honour and I have a lot to see to. I will see you both tonight." The word both was emphasised a bit.
The captain simply inclined her head in agreement.
Kathryn was no fool - had the empaths picked up something from her that she was trying to deny? She didn't doubt that the Rivolans believed she was romantically interested in Voyager's chief engineer and yes, if she allowed herself, she could easily fall for her chief. Not that it mattered; B'Elanna had never shown any interest in her or any other woman.
Oh no! The Rivolans were expecting them together and, if she had read their intentions correctly, they would try to set them up. She had to talk to B'Elanna, now!
"Torres here," came B'Elanna's standard reply to the captain's hale.
"B'Elanna, I apologise if I am interrupting you but please return to Voyager and report to me in my Ready Room."
"I'll be right there, Captain," B'Elanna acknowledged, glad that she would have the opportunity to talk to the captain.
Janeway was sitting behind her desk and had a cup of coffee in front of her. She had ordered B'Elanna to join her but was still uncertain as to how she should approach this.
How would B'Elanna react if she learned she had to attend this evening's party as her date? Granted the half-Klingon had become a fine officer and always performed her duties 'within acceptable parameters,' as Seven aptly phrased it. However, Kathryn had her doubts that B'Elanna would perform this 'duty' without a few protests.
The door chime sounded and, for a second, the captain contemplated remaining behind her desk; it would provide her with a modicum of professional distance which would enable her to keep a clear head. However, if there had ever been a situation in her career since arriving in the Delta Quadrant that needed her personal touch it was this one. So, as she called, "Come in," she stood up and immediately beckoned B'Elanna to join her on her couch, offering her something to drink.
Janeway still wasn't any surer about how to broach the subject though. She didn't know that B'Elanna's thoughts ran among the same lines. As she sat down a bit away from her chief engineer, B'Elanna beat her to the punch.
"Captain, I had a very strange conversation with Veraly..."
Janeway's heart sank to her shoes and she wryly thought, 'and here I was, wondering how I could broach the subject.'
B'Elanna continued, "...she said you were interested in me. Captain I did my best to tell her this was nonsense but I didn't get much of a word in."
"B'Elanna, will you be my date for this evening?" With an amused look on her face, Kathryn asked her engineer out. She was determined to play it down; to make it appear as if it didn't mean anything.
B'Elanna was looking at her captain with her mouth slightly open. Had the captain really asked her to be her date? Then she noticed the amused look directed at her; her superior obviously had more to say, so she carefully asked, "Wouldn't Tuvok or Chakotay be a more suitable escort?" A little more hesitantly she added, "Or Seven?"
'Seven? What had Seven to do with anything,' the captain wondered confused. Dismissing it as unimportant she said, "B'Elanna, for some reason the Rivolans believe I have my eye on you." She forestalled B'Elanna's next question by lifting her hand. "I'm sure they picked up on my fondness for you and confused it with a romantic interest. They are powerful empaths, but we are aliens to them. I think they might misinterpret the things they pick up from us."
B'Elanna nodded, what the captain said made sense. She'd also noticed the captain's confusion when she mentioned Seven, so she'd probably been wrong about her assumption about the two of them.
"Quite frankly Captain, I still don't understand why you asked me instead of Tuvok or Chakotay. You could simply tell the Virolans what you just told me."
With a wry look Janeway answered, "Don't you think I tried? I don't think I could have insulted them worse than by doubting their emphatic abilities. No, you have to be my escort tonight or we will be facing a diplomatic riot. So, B'Elanna, will you be my date tonight?" Kathryn asked again.
Answering in a quasi-formal manner, the half Klingon answered, "Captain it would be my honour." It also happened to be the simple truth.
"Thank you," Janeway chuckled her reply while thinking that the conversation hadn't been as difficult or awkward as she had feared.
"I will see you at 19.00 hours in Transporter Room 2."
Recognising a dismissal when she heard one, B'Elanna nodded her approval and got up. As she neared the exit the captain couldn't resist, "Oh Lieutenant, dress uniform is required of course, understood?"
She laughed at the chief's response because B'Elanna's, "Yes ma'am," sounded resigned, while she didn't think she imagined the soft groan she heard.
B'Elanna entered her quarters. She had nearly two hours before she had to be in Transporter Room 2. This gave her enough time to prepare herself as well as to think.
The conversation with the captain had gone as expected. The captain did have a sound logical explanation for Veralek's behaviour. It was also good the captain was fond of her.
What she didn't understand was her own reaction. Why did she feel so disappointed? As the truth dawned on her, she suddenly had to sit down. Even as she convinced herself the alien female had been wrong, a small part of her had still hoped it could have been true. With some dismay B'Elanna had to admit that Kathryn Janeway was one fine lady and she could easily fall for her.
Sighing, B'Elanna drew the only conclusion she could; it was no use wishing for something she could never have, she would simply try to have a fun evening, and that would be it. Sometimes she wondered if she would ever find a mate of her own.
The festivities were in full swing. The evening started with an impressive banquet, which ended with Neelix searching out the chef cook in order to obtain a few recipes. The Rivolans had not been very subtle in their attempts to get the pair of Voyager's officers closer together. More than once, B'Elanna had trouble concealing her embarrassment. Kathryn, however, was at her diplomatic best. She was always skilfully steering the conversation away from that particular subject. Not that it was easy.
Unbeknownst to the captain and her chief engineer, their hosts had a hidden agenda. They had vowed that neither B'Elanna nor Kathryn would leave the party without at least acknowledging their interest in each other. By now it was clear to them Kathryn Janeway wasn't the only one with a little secret.
They kept dropping hints, kept pointing out admirable traits about one to the other, and they kept telling them how good they looked together. Not only was it a worthy goal but it also amused them no end.
No matter how skilfully the captain dodged their remarks, or how interested the Klingon engineer became in her food, their persistence was unrelenting. As the prime negotiator contemplated his next move he refilled the glasses of his guests. He decided that maybe the time was right for a direct approach. It had worked with the captain before so, when a silence in the conversation appeared, he seized his opportunity.
B'Elanna steeled herself for yet another difficult question or suggestive suggestion as Kataralon turned his full attention on her. She didn't quite know what to expect but no doubt getting red in the face would be involved... again.
"So B'Elanna, tell me; when did you first become aware of your feelings for Kathryn?"
"I... uh... I...," B'Elanna faltered for a moment but then she realised the answer was simple as well as true. "She simply grew on me."
Kathryn silently laughed at the answer, she better than anyone could appreciate B'Elanna's clever words. After all, they had started out as enemies and ended up close friends.
Veralek decided she had enough of the two women denying their real feelings. She had never been a patient person but seeing the women avoiding the issue was something she simply didn't understand and it was unacceptable. She'd had enough of the two women pretending to pretend they weren't romantically interested in each other, while pretending to them they were. The only two they were fooling were themselves. She wondered what would happen if they actually KNEW how the other felt.
She leaned over to her friend and quietly whispered her intentions to him, asking for his opinion and preferably his approval. For a few moments he looked contemplative, then he nodded; he'd always wondered if this technique would work on off-worlders.
Veralek smiled as she got the go-ahead. Looking first at the female captain and then at the engineer she asked them, "You two have no idea what you feel for each other do you?"
The women in question looked questioningly at each other before hurriedly redressing their attention to Veralek. Even Janeway didn't have a reply, it just wasn't any use lying to the empaths, but she didn't want Lanna to know either. True to fashion, Veralek didn't really give them a chance to reply anyway. She rounded the table and squatted between the lieutenant and the captain. "Please allow me to show you both what you feel for the other."
"What do you mean?" asked B'Elanna, with curiosity, and not a little dread. What was this woman planning?
"We are a race of empaths but, like among your people, some people are born blind or deaf, so some of our people are born without the empathic senses. To allow them to experience the same as we do, a technique was developed where we could allow them to feel the same things by acting as a conduit between two different persons. We believe we could do the same for you. Please allow me to try?"
Kathryn clearly hesitated, "I don't think..."
Now Veralek exploded, "What is wrong with you? You two obviously care for each other, we can all feel it, but every time we say something about it, you turn your back on it. If you don't believe us, will you at least give us the chance to prove it, or you'll always wonder."
B'Elanna's face was suddenly transformed with a beautiful smile. Could it be true? Did she have a chance? She took the hand Veralek had stretched out to her. With her eyes, she bade Janeway to do the same, promising she wouldn't be disappointed. She realised she was taking a chance but she had to.
As Kathryn's hand slowly moved upward she could only wonder what the future held in store, because already, without a doubt she knew things would never be the same again.
The future looked very bright indeed.
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