Summary:A Trade negotiation goes joyously awry. Happy Birthday Belanna. 🙂 I hope you have a wonderful day sweetheart.
Disclaimer: CBS/Paramount owns everything. No infringement intended.
Here I am at yet another formal reception. The banality and tediousness of our welcoming ceremony never ceases to amaze me. How can such and advanced and enlightened culture such as ours, cling to such archaic and outmoded rituals? They serve no purpose but to perhaps deter potential invasion forces – ensuring that they bypass us because we are so boring and pedantic.
However ambivalent I may feel about my attendance, it is mandatory. My father is First Consul and brother-in-law to the Mirokan Regent and since my mother’s death, the duty has fallen upon me to be his escort to any and all official functions. It’s a responsibility I could well do without. For the most part these receptions are cloying diplomatic affairs for the heads of state of our brother principalities and, on occasion, the representatives from our two closest planetary neighbours. However, today’s reception is something quite different.
I slink back into my corner to watch the arrival of our visitors from across the stars.
They are unlike anyone I have ever seen before. They refer to themselves as ‘Federations’, although I think there may be some interpretive difficulties with our translators. There are several different species amongst them, but predominately they appear to be bipedal, with a similar body structure to ours, attractively smooth foreheads and an intriguing array of hair and skin colours. Mirokans are all pale skinned, pale haired and pale eyed. We look positively bland in contrast to the wonderful grab bag of faces, colours and sizes of our new friends. As the droning music crescendos, they begin to file in to take their places on the podium.
I’m surprised to see that their leader is a woman, which is something unheard of in our society. I watch her closely, she’s not a big woman, but graced with an aura of quiet authority. A small woman, but an impressively imposing one. Her eyes sparkle with a deep intelligence and wisdom. This is also something not common in our society, where beauty is considered synonymous with ignorance. I note her movements, they are controlled and precise, but there is a veiled energy and passion hidden behind that control. An interesting woman, I have no doubt. She intrigues me.
Behind her stands a pointy eared, dark skinned man who is looking warily around the room. This man must be her protector, and he appears very intense and serious. He stands aloof and distant, his face an impassive mask. The woman leader turns and speaks to him, he nods but continues to scan the room.
The next Federations to step onto the podium are a young couple. A woman with a ridged forehead, not dissimilar to the vestigial folds on the Mirokan forehead, and she is escorted by a yellow haired man, who seems to be overly solicitous of her wellbeing. This attitude seems to irritate her, but her swollen abdomen makes me suspect that perhaps she is with child and this is what is prompting Yellow Hair’s over-protectiveness. I smile. It appears that it is not only the males of our species who behave in this manner with their mates and prospective offspring.
There are several other smooth faced men and women who join the assemblage. I’m busy cataloguing the arrivals when my eyes suddenly fall upon the handsomest man I have ever seen. He is black haired, golden skinned and dark eyed with a pattern painted on his forehead. He is the antithesis of what most Mirokans would consider handsome, but I find him extraordinary and I cannot tear my eyes away from him. His beauty speaks to my heart. I can feel my face flush and warmth suffuse my body. I wonder who he is. He is unlike anyone I have seen before.
He walks with a steady ease, but there is a coiled power beneath the nonchalant roll of his hips. He reminds me of our most dangerous predator, the Akeisa. Although he appears relaxed, he could pounce at any moment, and that hint of danger, beneath the cool façade, is intoxicating. His dark eyes roam the room with a feigned casualness, but I can tell that he’s taking note of everything – exits, entrances, where people are positioned, possible danger spots and perils. His eyes move towards where I’m hiding in the shadows and I avert my stare until I feel his gaze pass me by, then I resume my vigil.
I watch him intently, as I take deep breaths, trying to still my thundering heart. I have never felt like this before, and it both frightens and excites me.
As difficult as it is to believe and, as ridiculous as it sounds, I think I’ve fallen in love. My heart is beating faster, and I can feel a faint flutter in my middle. I have never been drawn to anyone in this way. It is somewhat unsettling and, with trembling hands, I sip my wine and try to calm my jangled nerves. I would like to meet him, but know that just at the moment, I would be incapable of any intelligent conversation.
I watch as he moves over to the fecund woman and Yellow Hair. Yellow Hair speaks, and my dark haired one smiles. My knees go weak. His eyes crinkle and there are dents in his cheeks that enhance the broadness of his grin. Strong white teeth show, and I can tell from the ease of his smile that there is a gentle humour lying just beneath that intense visage. Tugging at his uniform jacket he runs his hand through his hair. My fingers tingle as I imagine how that must feel. I want to touch him. To run my fingers through the softness of his hair, to feel the heat of his flesh and the power of muscle under skin. Frissons of pleasure trickle down my back, and I’m drawn towards him.
How could this be? The concept of ‘love at first sight’ is a thing of adolescent fantasies and utter foolishness. But I fear I have become a victim to this folly. With one look I have become infatuated with this golden skinned man who comes from a world on the other side of the galaxy.
I would like to meet him but I wonder what he thinks of the Mirokans. Does he find us attractive? I’m considered a beauty by those of my species, but I fear my pallor and feyness will not be to his liking. I must find my Uncle or father and ensure that they introduce me to this man. I take another sip of my drink and run my trembling fingers through my pale tresses.
My heart feels swollen in my chest as I watch this man of my dreams move further around the table. He and Pointed Ears exchange a meaningful glance, and then Pointed Ears moves away. My dark haired beauty moves to stand to the left and slightly behind the small woman leader. She notices his presence without turning, and takes a small step back towards him as she continues her conversation with the Interior Minister. Suddenly she steps aside and, placing her hand on his arm, introduces him to the Minister. He nods and greets him and then, as the Minister moves away, he and the lady captain turn to one another and smile.
In that moment my heart withers and I slink back into my corner. Even someone as inexperienced as I in the ways of the heart can see that these two are joined. Their connection is tangible and immutable.
He hovers close to her and it is obvious, even from this distance, that he would give his life for her. He radiates devotion, and as he turns to her, and their eyes meet, love spills from both their gazes. I watch as she reluctantly tears her gaze from his and attempts to regain her composure. If I was not so devastated, I could almost see the humorous side of both she and I being in a similar state of agitation due to the presence of this man. She tries to remain aloof, as any leader should with their underlings, but, there is a visible undercurrent to which, those around them, seem oblivious. I don’t understand how they cannot see it. It is like a vibrant aura pulsing around them.
I envy the lady captain and her dark haired lover. A gnawing jealousy churns my gut, and I’m angry with myself for feeling this way. I stare at the lovers, and it gives me an almost perverse pleasure to watch their turmoil.
I dislike her now, for no other reason than she has what I want, the love of this extraordinary looking man. I am staring, and cannot tear my eyes away. I watch intently as she lays her hand on his arm again and I tingle as he leans in close to hear what she is saying over the din of the droning music and chatter. The way he looks at her excludes all others, and she concentrates on his face as he answers her. The hubbub fades around them and they are in a world of their own making.
He smiles again, but this is different. There is an intimacy about this smile, as if he knows all the secrets of the universe and they are encapsulated in the small compelling woman at his side. I feel like laughing and crying at the same time. I am devastated, but at the same time, I feel almost honoured to see this sort of unconditional love so openly displayed. I can tell by the way their hands hover close but don’t touch, and how their bodies are drawn to one another and yet they pull against the attraction, that this love is something that they are both fighting.
They seem to be wholly unsuccessful.
I know if I was so lucky to share a love this strong, nothing would stop me from embracing it. Tears prick at my eyes as I watch a shimmer of regret in both their eyes as their attention is diverted.
I am still watching intently, and the lady captain senses my stare. She turns and meets my gaze with an unwavering one of her own. Our eyes lock and I know she knows. It’s uncanny. I can almost tell what she is thinking. Perhaps this has happened before. Her look is not arrogant or baleful, just… understanding and filled with empathy.
I can tell she’s about to break the visual bond, but before she does, she gives me a small knowing smile, full of compassion and with a hint of sadness. I give her a small sad smile in return. We know, we understand and we commiserate. She turns back to meet yet another dignitary, and I place my drink on a nearby table and escape to one of the balconies to get some much needed fresh air.
Trembling, I stand looking out over the domed roofs of the old city. Each of the mirrored surfaces reflects the light of our twin moons and the stars. It is a spectacular sight. Much like looking across an array of giant multi faceted gems. The ancients were not so adept at ceremonies but they certainly had a flair for the spectacular where architecture was concerned. I grip the railing and take a deep cleansing breath. What an extraordinary night. I have fallen in love and then had that love dashed upon the rocks of reality, all within a matter of moments. It’s ridiculous really and I chide myself. This is adolescent behaviour is not befitting a Ministerial consort and after another few deep breaths, I regain my equilibrium.
I hear a noise beside me and turn. It is Yellow Hair, and he is looking at the view with an astonished stare.
“What a beautiful view. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it.” He turns to me and smiles, extending his hand. “Hello, I’m Tom Paris, the pilot from Voyager.”
I extend my hand, mimicking his greeting and he clasps my hand in his and gives it a gentle shake. My diplomatic training comes to the fore. “Good evening Tom Paris, I am Azelja, Daughter of First Consul Kalenan. I am very pleased to meet you.”
He nods and smiles again. “I’m pleased to meet you too, Azelja. This has been a very enjoyable evening.”
He has turned back towards the view and I look sideways at him and see his smirk. I like this Tom Paris. He has a touch of the joker in him. I smirk in return. “Just be grateful you only have to attend this particular ceremony. I have to be present at all of them.”
He laughs out loud. It is a hearty sound and I laugh quietly along with him. He leans in a little closer. “Be assured your welcoming ceremony is far from the worst we’ve had to endure over the years. This is positively jumping compared to the one on Honumi Nine.” He rolls his eyes and groans. “Yours may be boring, but at least there are no funny hats, feathers or chanting.” He exaggerates a shudder to add emphasis. I smile.
He turns and looks out over the city again. “This is the old city, is that right?”
I nod. “Yes. This was built by the Ancients about four millennia ago. The new city is beyond those hills to the south.”
“Well, it’s beautiful, and I’m looking forward to visiting the new city tomorrow. Do you live here or there?” He points southward.
“I live here, within the palace proper. My father is required to be close at hand, so we stay in apartments in the main complex.” I lean over the balcony to point in the direction of my home. He is an easy companion this one. Friendly and uncomplicated. I wonder if all the Federations are so easy to get along with.
“That’s wonderful.” He leans over and follows my directions. “Have you met our Captain yet? I’m sure she would love to see this. I should go and get her and the Commander. They’ll be amazed.”
I stiffen slightly and he notices my change in demeanour.
Frowning, he looks at me questioningly. “I’m sorry. Perhaps I’m not supposed to be out here.”
I feel bad. I’ve given him the wrong impression, my diplomatic skills so quickly forgotten in my discomfort. “No, no, you are most welcome to come out here. You are welcome anywhere. I’m just a little nervous about meeting your captain … and the commander? He is the one with the facial markings?” I try to keep my voice calm, but I think there is a tremor that he can hear. I look out over the old city and speak as nonchalantly as I can. “They are a bonded pair, are they not?”
I hear a sharp exhalation from Tom Paris, and turn to look at him. He shakes his head, but looks sad. “No, they’re not bonded. Although…” He shrugs.
I look back at the view. “I am not particularly worldly, but they seem very much like a bonded pair to me. Their connection is undeniable. I think they are aware of it, but try to ignore it. Why is that? Is it against your laws or their beliefs?”
My new friend shakes his head. “No, not exactly. But our Captain is a stubborn woman.”
I smile. I can understand her to an extent. To be involved with the commander would be very distracting. Although, I still find it hard to imagine denying that love. “Hmmm. It is a great pity. They seem so drawn to one another. It is rare to see a pair who appears so compatible. Is there no way to compel them to formalise their bond?”
Tom Paris shook his head slowly. “I doubt it. Although, I know the commander would ‘formalise’ their bond in a heartbeat, but the captain has many reasons for not doing so. I can understand in some ways, but our experience here in the Delta Quadrant is something quite unique.” He turns back to me and smiles conspiratorially. “Don’t think we haven’t tried.”
I look at him questioningly and encourage him to elaborate. He shrugs his shoulders, it is perhaps considered inauspicious to speak of his commanding officers in this way, especially with someone from the official party but he relents. “Let’s just say there have been a few turbo lift malfunctions and door glitches that may not necessarily have been on the up and up.”
Suddenly the romantic in me bubbles to the surface. If the commander is out of my reach, then I would like to see him happy, and if what Tom Paris says is true, his path to happiness lies with the small strong woman captain. It will give me some sense of closure and the thought of playing matchmaker speaks to the romantic in me. I look at my new friend and soon to be co-conspirator. “I have an idea as to how their bond could be formalised.”
Tom Paris looks at me warily. “She won’t do it, and I wouldn’t advise broaching the subject.” I look at him and he holds his hands up in front of him. “And I’m certainly not going to ask.”
I shake my head. “No, no. You misunderstand. She will not be aware until afterwards. I’ll give you all the relevant information, and then you can decide whether or not to inform her.”
Tom Paris’s eyebrows rise and he leans in closer. “I’m listening.”
I smile. “At the end of this reception there is a short ceremony that is referred to as the Restoration. Its purpose is to formalise and strengthen bonds and ties. These bonds and ties can be of friendship, trade or love, but many use this ceremony as a means of bonding. If your captain and commander were to stand side by side and repeat the relevant phrases, they would be, for all intents and purposes, bonded by the end of the ceremony.” All the time that I am talking, Tom Paris’s eyes are widening and a smile is creeping over his face. I think that this appeals to him greatly. “Does that meet your requirements as a bonding ceremony?”
His face breaks into a broad smile. “Oh, I think that’s just perfect.” He looks over his shoulder and then back at me. “Would you mind waiting here for just a moment while I get B’Elanna, my wife, and my friend Harry? I think they’ll need to be in on this. I won’t be long.”
I nod to him and cannot help but smile at his enthusiasm. As he leaves, I look back over the sparkling city. I think about what I am about to do, and what a strange night this has been. I am about to conspire with several alien visitors, whom I will have only just met, to assist in the secret bonding of their leaders, one of whom, I became infatuated with earlier in this evening. A more unusual night I have never experienced, or will again, I am sure. It gives me a special thrill, though. Just the thought of bringing happiness to my golden prince is a balm for my battered heart. I hear them return.
Tom Paris smiles as he introduces his companions. “Azelja, I would like you to meet my wife, B’Elanna Torres and my friend Harry Kim.”
I nod a greeting to both as they acknowledge me. “I am pleased to meet you both.” I extend my hand as Tom Paris had done earlier. “B’Elanna Torres.” She takes my hand and shakes it firmly. “Harry Kim.” He also shakes my hand, and bows slightly. I like these Federations. They are open and honest. It is very refreshing.
Tom Paris turns to me again. “I’ve told both B’Elanna and Harry what you told me and they think it’s a great idea, and I know the rest of the crew will be thrilled with the idea as well. If you could just explain to us what we should do, we’ll try to make sure that the captain and commander are where they’re supposed to be when the time comes.”
I shrug. “It’s not a rigid ritual, surprisingly.” I smile. “As long as they are standing with each other and repeat the words spoken by our Regent, the bonding is complete. It will be up to you, to tell them of the significance.” All their eyes are shining with undisguised enthusiasm. “Do your captain and commander respect the laws and rituals of other cultures?”
Young Harry Kim answers. “Oh, absolutely. It is one of the basic tenets of our Federation. To uphold the laws and respect the differences between cultures and species. It is called our Prime Directive. We are, in fact, compelled through our own laws to uphold those ideals.” He turns to Tom and B’Elanna with a slightly worried frown. “Mind you, I don’t want to think about what she’ll do to us if she ever finds out we were behind this.”
B’Elanna cringes. “Yes, I have a feeling that the Prime Directive may not do us any good in that situation.”
“Hopefully she will be too happy, to be worried about apportioning blame.” I offer this pearl of wisdom in the hope that they will not decide against this course of action. They all look at one another and smile. I smile too. I feel a great sense of camaraderie with these three very different young people. They obviously admire and care for their leaders very much to want this for them so badly.
“Wow! That’s amazing.” Harry Kim is looking over the rooftops of the old city.
“It looks like a carpet of stars.” B’Elanna Torres turns to me. “Your home is very beautiful, Azelja. I think it’s the perfect place for the captain and the commander to marry.”
Tom Paris puts his arm around his wife’s shoulders and holds her close. These two are also very much in love. It does my heart good to see this. This word ‘marry’ is new to me and I look at my Federation friends and ask. “Marry? Am I to understand that this is the word you give to your bonding ceremony?”
Harry Kim is nodding. “Yes, Azelja. When two of our species are joined in a bonding ceremony it is referred to as a marriage.” He gave a laugh. “I can’t believe we’re doing this.”
“What are you ‘doing’ Ensign?” I look to my right and the woman captain and the commander are standing in the door way.
“Uh, nothing Captain. Just enjoying the view.” Harry moves to the side. “You have to see this Ma’am, it’s amazing.” She moves forward and smiles at me, then her eyes widen as she looks out over the rooftops. She puts her hand behind her to beckon the Commander to her side. He takes his place beside her. “Look at this Chakotay. Have you ever seen anything so beautiful?”
He glances at the woman at his side, his eyes bright with love and then he turns to the view. “No. It’s extraordinary and very beautiful.” He turns to me and smiles. I can feel the colour rising up my neck to my face. I smile in return and then turn my head away in the hope that no one will notice the flush on my cheeks.
“I don’t think we’ve met? I am Captain Kathryn Janeway.” She extends her hand towards me and I shake it, as I have done with all the other Federations.
“Captain, this is Azelja, daughter of First Consul Kalenan.” I turn and smile at Tom Paris as he introduces me.
“I am very pleased to meet you, Azelja. I think I saw you from across the room a little earlier?” The captain smiles and I nod. She then turns to her companion. “Let me introduce my first Officer, Commander Chakotay.”
We shake hands briefly and he bows slightly like Harry Kim. “Azelja. Your city is extraordinary.”
I smile politely. “I’m very pleased to meet you Captain and Commander, and I am honoured that you think our city so beautiful.”
“I have never seen anything to rival it. It is quite unique.” The Commander places his hand behind his captain’s back and touches her lightly as they move closer to the edge of the balcony for a better view. I notice how her body automatically falls towards him and his hand hovers as he stands beside her. You can almost see the electricity dancing between them. I look past them towards Tom Paris. He smiles and raises his eyebrows slightly. I smile conspiratorially.
The droning music stops and we turn towards the meeting hall. There is a loud chiming and my guests all look towards me in question. “It is time for us to partake of the repast. If you would please follow me I will show you to your seats.”
The commander offers the captain his arm and she tucks her hand into the crook of his elbow. Harry Kim approaches me and offers me his arm and I follow suit. We lead the procession into the hall and I guide them to the main table where their meal will be served. They all thank me as they take their seats. My place is by my father’s side at the other end of the table. As much as I would have preferred to sit with my new friends, it affords me an uninterrupted view of the couple in question and my co-conspirators.
The meal proceeds without mishap. The Mirokan culinary arts are considered one of the finest in the Delta Quadrant and I can see that food and drink are are enjoyed by all our Federation friends. They heartily compliment the First Regent and his family. My Uncle is most pleased.
After the meal there are several musical and dance presentations. Fortunately these are more interesting than the music and pomp that accompanied the welcoming ceremony. Tom Paris catches my eye during one of the performances and smiles knowingly. I nod and smile in return.
At the conclusion of the performances the Regent rises and everyone is encouraged to move off the podium and onto the lower floor level. I meet Tom Paris’s eyes and nod. Now it is time. They attempt to manoeuvre their captain and commander into a position next to one another, but as they do so, the Regent calls for the Captain and Commander to stand together in front of him. This is the first time my uncle has ever done anything like this and I am intrigued. I move over to be within close reach and notice Pointy Ears standing close behind the captain and commander. He notices my gaze and nods his head slowly in recognition. I nod in return just as the Regent begins the Restoration. We both turn to the podium.
I know that my uncle enjoys this part of the festivities and, with his eyes on the Federation leaders, he bellows the words to the waiting audience. “To all those who are gathered, may we bestow upon you our blessing. We welcome our new friends from across the stars. Please repeat after me….. With these words we bind and bring together those of kindred heart and mind.”
In unison the vast crowd echoes the words. “With these words we bind and bring together those of kindred heart and mind.”
“We ask for a blessing from the great Restorer for long life and happiness.”
I watch and listen intently as the captain and commander repeat the words. Harry Kim is grinning from ear to ear as he watches them from the opposite side.
“May our Gods shine their goodness and love down upon our spirits, and may you all travel this life bound in love and friendship.”
The words are again repeated.
“Go in peace and may these words join us, body and soul for eternity.”
The captain looks towards the commander and there is an odd look in her eye as he meets her gaze. They repeat the last few words of the ceremony looking into each other’s eyes. “Go in peace and may these words join us, body and soul for eternity.” My heart skips a beat as they drag their eyes away from one another and look towards the Regent.
It is done.
The captain and commander smile and thank their host and the Regent is most effusive in his acceptance.
I quickly look around the reception hall for my co-conspirators, but a touch at my elbow makes me turn. It is Tom Paris. He smiles. “That was almost too simple.”
I smile in return. “As I said, it is not a complicated ritual. Are you returning to your ship immediately or are you able to wait a few moments while I gather the information you will need?”
“We’re in no hurry.” He looks around the hall. “Where shall we meet you?”
“Perhaps out on the balcony again in, say, five of your minutes.”
“Excellent. We’ll meet you there.” He wanders off into the crowd to find B’Elanna and Harry, and I make my way to one of the ante rooms and a computer terminal.
It takes me only moments to download the required information and I scurry back to the reception before I am missed. My hands are shaking and my heart is beating wildly in my chest. This reception, which I had assumed would be as boring and ordinary as all the others I have attended, has become a great adventure. I haven’t felt this excited in years and I am so grateful to have met and befriended these Federations.
Turning at the sound of the balcony doors opening, I smile at Tom Paris, B’Elanna Torres and Harry Kim. I hand the small data chip to Tom. “This is all the information that you will need. I hope to hear from you. I would like to know how they greet the knowledge of their bonding. Do you know how you are going to tell them?”
The three look at one another and shrug. B’Elanna speaks for them. “I don’t think we’ve quite worked that out yet, but I’m sure we’ll think of something.”
I have another idea and I wonder why I didn’t think of it earlier. “Would you mind if I suggested something?”
They shake their heads and Harry affirms. “No, not at all. We could probably use some help.”
“I could suggest to the Regent that he offer the Captain and Commander the opportunity to stay here in the palace. I will make a comment, in passing, that they recited the bonding ceremony and perhaps are unaware of its significance. I can suggest that he inform them of what the ritual entails.” I look at the three people in front of me and see slow smiles spread across their faces.
Tom Paris, nods. “That is an excellent idea, Azelja.” He glances at his comrades. “And it gets us off the hook too.”
“If the invitation comes from the Regent, they’ll be compelled to stay and they won’t be able to deny the meaning of the ritual. I love it.” B’Elanna is smiling and Harry looks pleased as well.
“I shall see you inside then.” They all nod enthusiastically and, with a smile, I leave them to make my way to the Regent’s side.
“Uncle, may I have a moment of your time?”
My mother’s brother smiles down at me. “Certainly, Azelja. It has been a wonderful evening, hasn’t it, my dear?”
“Yes, Uncle. A great success. Our guests seem very pleased with us and our hospitality.”
He harrumphs and smiles, then turns to me. “Now what can I do for you, little one?”
“I wanted to make a suggestion.”
He nods at me to continue.
I take a deep breath. “I noticed that the Federation Captain and her Commander recited the words of bonding during the Restoration ceremony, and I am uncertain as to whether or not they are aware of the significance of the ceremony. I was wondering if we should inform them and then perhaps offer them one of the state rooms in which to stay during the trade negotiations. It would save them having to return each day for the meetings, and it might be considered as a bonding gift, or just an overture of friendship and trust, to have them reside here, in the palace, for the duration of their stay.”
My Uncle looks at me with a slight frown and then nods his head slowly and looks over towards the Captain and Commander. “That is a very good idea, my dear. I shall ask them immediately and also explain the ritual. Would you care to accompany me while I extend the invitation and then you can inform the staff to prepare the stateroom in the east wing for our guests?”
I smile and nod. “Most certainly, Uncle.” I take my Regent’s arm and we wend our way through the crowd to the Captain and Commander.
They are standing side by side, not exactly touching, but it is a matter of interpretation. They are together, of that there is no doubt. They smile and greet the Regent. The Captain speaks. “Regent Lerorm, I must thank you for a most enjoyable evening. My crew and I have had a wonderful time.”
“I am very pleased to hear that, Captain and I wish to extend my invitation further, if I may?It has been brought to my attention that you and the Commander were bonded during the Restoration ceremony and it would please me to offer you a state room, here in the palace, for your accommodations during your stay. It would be considered as a bonding gift from your new friends here on Miroka.”
I watch both the Captain and Commander as their smiles fade and their eyes widen in shock. The Commander stutters. “B…bonded?”
My Regent smiles, seemingly oblivious to the shocked faces of our new friends. He blusters on. “Oh, yes. The Restoration is considered as a bonding ceremony for those who are meant to be as one, as you and the Captain so obviously are. We are greatly honoured that you would use our ceremony to formalise your bond. It is indeed something that will smooth the diplomatic path to our trade negotiations. I will send Azelja now to organise your room. Yes?”
The Captain has paled considerably and she casts a careful glance at the Commander. He is equally pale, but there is a spark of something in his look. The Regent is waiting for confirmation. I speak to bridge the uncomfortable silence. “The room is very comfortable, Captain and it has the most splendid view of the old city. I am sure you will find yourself very much at home.” I nod to one of the passing domestic staff. They move to my side and I whisper my orders to them to prepare the room. They nod and leave to do my bidding.
The Captain finally speaks. “Thank you, Regent Lerorm for your most kind offer, but I’m afraid the Commander and I cannot stay. We,” she glances at the Commander, “were unaware of the significance of the Restoration ceremony. If we had been, we would not have recited the oath.”
I feel the Regent stiffen at my side and I glance at him as he scowls. This does not bode well. He speaks sternly. “The Restoration is a solemn ceremony that has been passed down through the ages from the Ancients and it is considered our most sacred oath. Once the words are spoken they cannot be retracted. I am sorry that this does not meet with your approval, but it is not our responsibility if you did not read the information sent to you regarding our rituals. They were forwarded by our Protocol officer to your Security officer. I would suggest you question his efficiency and not the integrity of our ceremonies.”
The Captain swallows but stands tall. The Commander glances at me with a worried look. I step in. “Regent, I am sure the Captain did not intend to insult either you or our rituals. It is well known, within any chain of command, that on occasion things are overlooked or misplaced. I know there have been incidents here on Miroka where situations have evolved over misunderstandings… You do remember the pickled Lorca egg incident and the Rinallin prince?”
I feel my Uncle relax and his face softens into an amused smile. “Ah, yes, a good point, Azelja. Captain, please excuse my poor manners and please accept our hospitality as recompense. Azelja has already ordered the room prepared for both you and the Commander.”
The Captain is flustered and the Commander is speechless. “Thank you, Regent… but it will…”
“Fine, that is settled then. Azelja will escort you to your room when you are ready to retire. I am most gratified that you are staying Captain and Commander and may I congratulate you on your bonding. A joyous occasion indeed.” My Uncle pats my hand and with a nod to the Captain and Commander, he moves off into the crowd. I am left with two rather stunned visitors.
Forgetting my presence the Captain turns to the Commander. “Chakotay, what are we going to do? And where the hell is Tuvok? If I didn’t know better, I would have thought this sort of stunt has Tom Paris written all over it, but Tuvok? Surely there must be some sort of mistake?”
I don’t dare move in case I disturb them. The Commander places his hand on her shoulder. “Kathryn, calm down. It’s not the end of the world. If it’s only Tuvok who knows about the ceremony, then there isn’t a problem. We can make sure that he keeps it a secret and no one will be the wiser.” He leans close and whispers something in her ear and she looks up at him with eyes filled with love and sadness… and just a touch of hope. I slink back into the crowd thinking quickly. I have to find a way of stopping them from keeping this a secret. I move quickly through the crowd to where Tom, B’Elanna and Harry are standing.
“Azelja. How did it go? We were watching and I thought poor Chakotay was going to collapse. Are they going to stay?”
“I’m not sure, but they are not going to tell anyone. Apparently your Mr Tuvok was aware of the significance of the ceremony, but did not tell them. The Captain is upset, however, the Commander, I think, would be more than pleased to have it known by all. Is there something that you can do?”
B’Elanna rolls her eyes. “Typical. But…” She looks at the others. “Do you really think that Tuvok knew and let them do this? I would have thought he was the last person to encourage the Captain and Chakotay. He’s usually such a stickler for the damn rules. Where is he, by the way? We’ve got to find out what he’s been up to.”
Harry points over to the left. “There he is. Come on, let’s go. Before the Captain and Chakotay get to him.”
We move through the throng and arrive at Tuvok’s side. B’Elanna speaks first. “Tuvok, is it true that you knew about the Restoration ceremony and the bonding?”
His facial expression doesn’t change. “Yes, I was aware of it. How, may I ask, did you become aware of the ceremonies significance?”
I try to fade back into the crowd, but his dark eyes latch onto mine and I’m riveted to the spot. I offer a small smile and he quirks an eyebrow at me. “I see.” And I have the feeling that he ‘sees’ exactly. It is most disconcerting.
Tom, slaps the man on the back. “Tuvok, I didn’t know you had it in you. You sly old dog, you.”
Harry looks over the crowd to see where the Captain is. “I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes though. The Captain isn’t all that thrilled.”
B’Elanna smiles. “Although, I think Chakotay is your slave for life.” She sidles up to Tuvok. “Why did you do it? It seems a little out of character.”
He gives a non committal grunt. “It was time.”
We all look at him, waiting for him to continue, but he is silent.
Tom is indignant. “That’s it…? It was time?”
He looks at all of us as if we are simpletons. “There is a time for everything and as far as the Captain and Commander were concerned, it was time for them to formalise their bond. We still have many years of travel ahead of us, but after almost seven years of travel, we are now a family. Children are being born and many more couples are forming permanent bonds.” He looks at Tom and B’Elanna. “You are testament to that. It was time for the Captain and the Commander to set an example and a logical step for them to take at this juncture.”
B’Elanna grins. “Logical, huh? You can’t fool me, Tuvok…. Logical? Yeah, sure. You’re an old romantic. You just couldn’t bear to see them so miserable. I think a little bit of humanity has rubbed off on you after all these years.”
He raises he eyebrows and gives B’Elanna a withering glare. “There is no need to be insulting, Lieutenant.”
B’Elanna, Tom and Harry just grin at him. I watch his eyes carefully and see telltale warmth invade their depths. He really does care deeply for his comrades and his cold aloofness is nothing more than a front. I grin too.
Harry gets back to the matter at hand. “Tuvok, what are we going to do, though. The Captain is trying to deny that the ceremony took place. She wants to make you keep it a secret.”
“Do not panic, Mr Kim. There is a logical solution to most situations.” He nods at someone behind me. “And the captain is unarmed.” He adds sotto voce, and I turn to find the Captain and Commander moving through the crowd to join our group.
The Captain ignores us and glares at her security officer. “Mr Tuvok, a word please. In private.”
Her voice is like cut glass and I step away instinctively.
Mr Tuvok is a brave man. He steps forward and with a nod of his head, he changes the lives of all the Federations forever. “Captain, Commander, may I be the first to congratulate you on your bonding. I am confident you will have a long and joyful marriage.”
The Captain’s face pales again and the Commander stares at Tuvok.
We conspirators all look at one another and then B’Elanna and Tom jolt into action. Tom leans forward and kisses the Captain’s cheek, taking her completely by surprise. “Congratulations, Captain, this is wonderful news. We’re all so happy for you.”
B’Elanna wraps her arms around the Commander, as best she can with her large belly in the way. “Oh, Chakotay, I’m so pleased. It’s about time.” Then she does the same with the Captain. “Captain, this is wonderful news, I can’t tell you how happy we are for you both.”
The Captain still looks stunned, but smiles slightly as Harry steps forward and kisses her cheek. Chakotay can’t hide his joy and one of his broad smiles graces his handsome face as Tom shakes his hand vigorously. I step forward and extend my congratulations as I hear a rumble slowly swell through the crowd. I look around me and notice that the Federations are all starting to look this way, talking animatedly and smiling. News is travelling fast through the ranks of the Federation visitors and within moments, other members of the Captain and Commander’s crew are making their way towards them to offer their congratulations.
Suddenly, what had been the dying moments of the evening’s celebrations, has taken on a new lease of life and a party is beginning. I catch Mr Tuvok looking past me and nodding his head at someone behind me. I turn to see my Uncle smiling and inclining his head in our direction. I know now that Tom, B’Elanna, Harry and I were not the only conspirators of the evening. The Captain and Commander did not stand a chance. Not only were their crew conspiring against them, but also my Uncle and most probably my father. I know he would have loved to be a part of something like this.
I accept a glass of honey wine that Harry takes from a passing waiter. The Federations all raise their glasses and Mr Tuvok speaks to the gathering. “To the Captain and Commander, may you live long and prosper.”
A cheer goes up from the crowd and everyone sips their drink. The Mirokans follow the example of the Federations as we partake of one of their rituals.
Tom Paris whispers in my ear. “Is it possible to organise some music, Azelja? I think it would be nice for the captain and commander to dance. It is something of a tradition in our captain’s culture.”
“I will be back in a moment.” And I race towards the musicians. After a quick word to the conductor, the band strikes up again, and the crowd draws back leaving a large, clear area of floor.
Everyone seems to be holding their breath as they watch their leaders. The Captain and Commander are hesitating. It seems they are unsure of what to do next. Mr Tuvok steps forward and takes the Captain’s hand and, from the gasps and sighs within the ranks of the Federation crew, I realise something significant is happening.
Suddenly, all is silent as Mr Tuvok places the Captain’s hand in the Commander’s and covers them with his own. The tall dark skinned officer leans down and says something to the pair and they both look at him with deep affection, it is difficult not to be moved by the moment. The Captain smiles and even from where I stand I can see tears in her eyes. She kisses Mr Tuvok’s cheek and the Commander shakes his hand solemnly.
As we all look on in wonder, the Commander then turns to the Captain and gently raises her hand to his lips and kisses it, then draws her out onto the empty floor. I watch entranced as he pulls her into his arms and holding her tight against him, they begin to move around the floor in time to the music. They dance on their own for several turns around the floor and then Tom and B’Elanna, and several other couples join them. Harry turns to me and offers me his arm. “Would you like to dance, Azelja?”
I look on in alarm. “I have never danced like this before. You will have to show me.”
Within seconds I am in his arms and he whispers in my ear. “Just follow me, Azelja and listen to the beat of the music. Let it guide you.” I slowly begin to relax and let the music take me. Soon we are sweeping around the floor, swaying to the rhythm. Most of the other Federations have joined us and as I move around the floor, I watch the Captain and Commander through the crowd of other couples.
Their bodies have relaxed into one another’s and I delight in seeing the Captain slowly rest her head against the Commander’s shoulder. Her eyes are closed and a peaceful smile softens her features. The Commander looks blissfully happy, as if all that is precious in the world he now holds his arms. Perhaps he does.
Harry is watching them too and I notice a shimmer of tears in his eyes. He turns to me with a smile, and shrugs. “It’s such a relief to see them so happy. They’ve waited for so long. Life will be good on Voyager.” His grin broadens. “I still can’t believe it was Tuvok behind the whole thing, though. Just when I think I’ve got that guy pegged, he goes and does something like this.”
I glance over at Tuvok.
He is standing aloof and silent watching the dancers. He looks no different from when I first laid eyes on him. Imperturbable and controlled.
Every so often one of the crew will walk past and pat his shoulder or have a quiet word to him, which he acknowledges with a slight nod of his head or a succinct word or two. He is trying to appear untouched by the proceedings, but I think that I, along with most people here, know that he is deeply affected by what has happened. I could swear there is just a touch of self satisfaction peeking though his dour demeanour.
There is much joy amongst the Voyager crew and it permeates the room. No one can remain unmoved by it and we are all smiling, Federations and Mirokans alike.
For an evening that had begun so inauspiciously, it has become a night that I will never forget.
The night the Captain and Commander from the Federation were bonded and we made friends from across the stars.