Chapter 11 – Much ado about...

Admiral Kathryn Janeway woke languidly, the slight scent of jasmine incense hanging in the air. Luxuriously she stretched, only to encounter a warm resistance to her left. She froze, not really certain what to make of the very definite feel of a body next to her. Her senses had already informed her she was laying on a standard Federation bed – after all the years spent on them one got to know that special feel of a Federation bed.

Still lying with her eyes closed, she tried to recall the evening past. She remembered being invited to play poker with some of the other women and she remembered getting slightly drunker than she had planned. And then...

New memories suddenly flashed in front of her mind's eye. Memories of a night spent in sensual passion with...

A mental block slammed up in her mind; a block she had been very careful to nurture these past few years. Very slowly she reached out a hand, trying to verify that which she already knew, but could not believe. Surely after all this time this could not have happened, not here, not now.

The tentative hand slowly travelled up the warm body, up over a strong – very male – chest to encounter a chin. Carefully she reached higher and her fingers touched the sleep-softened mouth of the man next to her. A mouth she would recognise anywhere.

Now her eyes flew open and she looked at the sleeping face of Chakotay in the bed next to her. Another bout of traitorous images flashed through her mind and she pulled up the bedding in slight shock. Okay...so. It had really happened. Now what?

Coming to a decision, she carefully got out of bed, making sure she did not wake her former Commander. Padding over to the bathroom, she found most of her clothes scattered around the room. Try as she could, though, she couldn't find her panties. Damn.

Quickly yet quietly she showered and donned her clothes. Fortunately her hair needed very little attention to be presentable and she was sure she would be able to sneak back to her quarters on board DS9 without causing suspicion. The best way to do that would simply be to look as if she had nothing to hide. Right, she could do that.

Making her way through the room to the door, it occurred to her that it was really rather ridiculous for a woman her age to be acting this way. Surely she had matured beyond this?

Trying to look as if nothing in the world was amiss, she stepped out of the room. Only to encounter a slightly stunned-looking Picard, stepping out of the room across from hers at the same time. For a silent moment the two of them stood looking at one another. Janeway's eyes were caught by a very suspicious-looking bruise peeking over his collar. Aware of what she would be seeing, the older man lifted his hand to pull up his collar slightly, only to then having to pull down his jacket. The bruise peeked out once more, this time slightly more noticeable and very definitely a mark left by teeth. The type of mark teeth left during love-play. Um...

Though her mind had some trouble picturing the man in any semblance of an idea of passion, she none the less realised they were making a bad situation even worse by their mutual silence.

"Captain," she recovered first, inclining her head slightly.

"Admiral," he returned her greeting. But that seemed to be it for conversation and for another moment the two of them stood mutely looking at one another. This time Picard recovered first. "Well, I have to be off," he brusquely informed her.

She nodded. "Yes, I suppose I have to be off as well," she responded. Then, very definitely, they headed in two opposite directions. Some things one did not want to know about. Although she was starting to have a sneaky suspicion that the entire night had not been without scheming on the part of the Hippopheralcians.

Yet, as she headed for the nearest turbo-lift, she found she was smiling.

#####

Eighteen hours earlier...

"As Alana has pointed out, our crews have not set out in the most amiable of ways," Rhemus carefully informed the two men with him in the turbo-lift. They had just left the meeting between the command staff of the Hippopheralcus, the Enterprise and Voyager. After Alana's suggestion he keep the men busy for a few hours, he had hurried to catch up to the two captains of the Enterprise and Voyager. "Also," he continued when it seemed Picard wanted to say something. "These past few days had been trying on all of us. Therefore we of the Hippopheralcus invite you to an amiable night of..." For a moment he could not think of something, but then he remembered something about Picard's past Alana had once mentioned. "Wine tasting," he finished.

"How very interesting," Picard began and Rhemus had the suspicion he was going to decline out of hand. Therefore he wondered if he could first get Chakotay to agree. The peculiarly tattooed human seemed much more agreeable than the captain of the flagship of the federation.

"Alana have invited some of the women for an evening of poker on holo-deck one," Rhemus quickly continued. "The wine tasting would be a gentleman-only occasion with wines from a variety of worlds all over the Alpha and Beta quadrants." He looked at Chakotay, trying to decide how much he could push the other man.

After a moment's silence Chakotay finally grinned. "It sounds like a reasonable invitation," he remarked. "I would be honoured to attend."

Rhemus had been correct in his assumption, for after Captain Chakotay had agreed, Picard would seem like a sore looser if he backed out without a good reason. Especially as both the other men now stared at the balding Captain.

Finally he smiled a slightly sick smile. "Very well," he agreed and, had Rhemus been the type, he would have grinned. As it was he merely inclined his head and told them they would be expected at nineteen hundred hours in holo-deck two, dressed in the formal attire of the early twenty-first century earth. If they were going to attend a peculiar activity, at least they could do it in the correct style. Both men assured him they would be there and Rhemus set off to find the first human crewmember he could.

In the end the results were not too bad, considering Rhemus did not know that much about twenty-first century human culture. Though Tom Paris assured him the setting was perfect. His search for an expert on the era had strangely brought him to the cocky Lieutenant of Voyager. The result was an intimate setting Paris called Sandrine's Bar and it had the added bonus of being a vintage set of a real place in France. The basic program had seemed to be rather shabby place, but they had managed to change it into a refined bar with neatly-dressed waiters and a smoke-free atmosphere. The snacks laid out were also real food, not holographic representations thereof. Well, they would be tasting real wine, after all.

When the two captains and a few of their male senior staff arrived, Rhemus saw those of Voyager smiling at the setting. It would seem they were somehow familiar with the program, but it could not be helped now.

At the neat bar the neatly-dressed 'Sandrine' and two of her helpers stood ready with a selection of fine wines and crystal glasses. Every wine's information had been programmed into the computer and the evening promised to be very...well, he hoped it would be something the humans will enjoy. He noticed the dark Vulcan Commander, Tuvok, and the android, Data, were missing from the line-up.

As it turned out, even Rhemus found the evening enjoyable. After about ten minutes, Tom Paris had suggested to him that they program some cigars into the setting and the vile-tasting smoking sticks had seemed to add to the evening. Rhemus was just happy that the stink would not accompany him outside the doors to the holo-deck.

Finally the evening seemed to be winding down and he gently prompted Alana. At her confirmation that everything was ready for them at her end, he announced the final round. This round would be no different from the others, with the exception that the waiters would serve Picard and Chakotay – and only them – a Nagha liqueur. To the Naghas the drink served to almost-instantly make them drunk, but on most humanoids it had a very different effect. And because the human digestive tract was much longer than a Nagha's, the effects would not be as instantaneous. If they timed it correctly, the two men would be experiencing the effects right after they had collected the women.

With satisfaction Rhemus noticed the two captains taking the drink from the bar and sipping. Picard still had a cigar in one hand, but Chakotay had not seemed to be much impressed by it. It must be a French thing, Rhemus surmised.

Taking his own drink – normal Shernal wine of no more than three years – he went to stand by the two men. Fortunately they had ended up together, probably discussing something very Federationey.

"Gentlemen," Rhemus started. "I hope you have enjoyed the evening?" he formally asked. Yet, as a Romulan, it wasn't really a question, was it? It was more of an affirmation of something he already knew.

"It did turn out to be a rather agreeable evening," Picard smiled. It was a genuine smile, too.

"I really like what you've done with the place," Chakotay grinned at the large Romulan. Rhemus squared his shoulders and Chakotay smiled even more. "Sandrine's was one of the first programs we ran on Voyager after the accident," he explained. He slightly indicated 'Sandrine.' "Although I remember her being much more aggressive," he added. Rhemus was not sure if that was a compliment or not, but decided to let it lie. He had other things that needed to be done.

"Then I am pleased to find this had been a memorable setting," he told them. "But if you would excuse me, I find I had promised Alana I would escort her back to our quarters after their games had finished. As I am familiar with the game, I am sure the women would be finished by now," he baited them.

Mellowed by drink and good food, the two men smiled at Rhemus. "Well, our evening would seem to have come to an end as well," Picard took the bait. "I am sure we could join you in offering our services to the female members of the crew."

Rhemus nodded, hiding his satisfaction at the older Captain's suggestion. No matter their reputation, this galaxy's people were no match to the crew of the Hippopheralcus.

#####

Beverly Crusher was the last to join the women set up in holo-deck one and was beamed directly to the party. Almost in passing Alana had mentioned to Janeway the women were having a poker night, and Charin had done the same with Beverly. The green woman had been spending some time with the doctor of the Enterprise and the invitation had not seemed out of place. As Alana watched the red-headed doctor look around at the setting, she could sense neither she nor Kathryn suspected anything.

The program was one specially designed by Charin of her homeworld, with the added mystique of some human tales. The entire room was hung with soft, iridescent drapes and a multitude of soft, velvety pillows were scattered around. In the centre of the room pillows had been arranged in a circle and the only piece of furniture was a large, low table. On it were the playing cards they would use for the occasion. Also, during the night small foods and drink would be provided by men in strange wide pants gathered around the ankles, turbans and shoes with curled toes. Their torsos were left bare and bronzed and their eyes masked.

One other feature of the proceedings was that near the door a large basket had been placed. One would hardly notice it until the music playing in the background was accompanied by a flute. Then the top of the basket would slowly, sinuously, rise and Salazar would peek out. Both he and Rhemus had insisted someone be present to protect Alana, and Salazar had been granted the privilege. The only problem was that some primal instinct made him want to rise up from the basket every time he heard the flute. It annoyed the crap out of him, but Alana ignored him. She had not requested his presence, after all. He's an uninvited guest and he was just going to have to live with the consequences.

"Well, this is quite different," Beverly remarked to Alana as she accepted a drink offered by one of the men. Alana smiled.

"This is one of Charin's favourite programs and offers a variety of options. Although," she added as she sipped her own drink, "Tonight it is merely a back-drop for our game."

Beverly smiled at her and Alana had a single moment of doubt concerning her plan. This woman seemed rather sweet. But it was simply a moment's doubt and soon vanished at the reminder that it was for their own good.

"The setting for poker on board the Enterprise certainly lacks the flamboyancy of this room," the doctor informed Alana. Alana frowned.

"I do not hope we have offended you in any way," she asked, but Beverly waved her concerns aside. Together the two women sauntered over towards the pillows, taking their places in the gathering. Though the game of poker, as invented on earth, was normally played by only a small number of people – Alana believed only five – they played a variation of the game invented on Faro Prime. This version was played with a few more people and around the table sat Alana, Kathryn, Beverly, Charin, Xenedra, Phonixia, Laura Cadman, Tempest Peck and Kono Kalakaua. Though everyone was dressed in regular uniform, the atmosphere was relaxed.

For a while the game continued as normal, but soon the heavy atmosphere and drink started to take a toll. Laura was the first to remove her jacket and soon after most of the rest of them had followed her lead. Even the two guests seemed relaxed and were taking to the game.

It was Phonixia who first, shyly, bet the last of her chips and a small bracelet she was wearing under her top. Fortunately she won, but the stage had been set for placing alternative bets. At first this was done quite innocently and sometimes the item bet was not an item of jewellery but a piece of clothing. Meanwhile the waiters kept their glasses full, but Alana made sure nobody ever exceeded their natural limit. The two guests were adept at maintaining their own sobriety, yet the effects soon mellowed them.

It was a few hours into the night that Xenedra found herself quite broke. The previous bet she had lost her socks (she had lost her boots long since) and now she had nothing left to place a bet with. With a sigh she rolled her eyes, took a long drink from her glass of clear pink wine and pulled off her top. The moment she did so, Alana felt the slight tension of Kathryn and Beverly and she gently soothed their emotions. Not even the most adept Betazoid would have suspected the touch, but instantly the two women relaxed. They relaxed even more when Charin leaned her head almost negligently on her friend's shoulder and sighed.

"You are by far the worst player I have ever met," Charin informed Xenedra, who scowled. But the potentially tense moment passed and the game continued.

For a while only a few desperate women had to bet pieces of clothing, all of them being of the Hippopheralcus. Kathryn and Beverly would probably have raged if they had found out that Alana was cheating by reading their minds and allowing them to stay comfortably in the game. It was easy to do wen you could communicate mentally with the rest of your crew. But finally Alana decided she needed to push the first of them to place a more dangerous bet. The first to provide the opportunity was Beverly. She suddenly found herself holding a wonderful hand, but having too little money to bet with. Alana informed Phonixia – who had a better hand – to gently raise the stakes. In the end it was just the two women still in, both glaring at one another. Phonixia seemed innocent, but she had been caught bluffing a couple of times. It was not even necessary for Alana to mentally urge the doctor from the Enterprise to make the final bet.

Beverly narrowed her eyes at Phonixia. "I know you're bluffing, I can smell it," she informed the sweet Talaxian. Phonixia smiled serenely.

"Even bluffing I could win," she cryptically told the older woman and Beverly narrowed her eyes even more. She looked at the stack of chips in front of Phonixia and then at the empty space in front of her.

"You know, I think I need to see that raise," she suddenly informed Phonixia as she glared at the Talaxian woman. With a determined expression she slammed her cards onto the table and removed her own blue top.

Phonixia won, but from there on it was easy to get the most of the rest of them to surrender their clothes. Though Alana still carefully orchestrated every move of her crew, she managed to get both visitors to lose their shoes and tops. She also made sure none of her crew – especially Xenedra and Charin – lost more than their upper clothing. She herself had no qualms about losing every drop of clothing, but she knew the two women from this universe would not be as comfortable with any of them sitting there completely naked. Besides, she did not want the men's attention to be on her crew.

And finally Rhemus informed her he was ready to join her party. She sent the message that the women were ready as well and with some effort even managed to get Charin to put her top back on.

Five minutes late, on cue, Rhemus entered the room with Picard and Chakotay.

#####

The sight that greeted the three men as they entered holo-deck one was of a group of scantily-dressed women tipsy on drink and fun, gaily playing a version of poker. Liquid laughter filled the room as they bantered with each other. Rhemus noticed that not only items of clothing were offered as collateral, but also the telling of secrets. In fact, as they entered Admiral Janeway was in the middle of telling them some secret about her youth and a man with dark eyes.

At the doorway the three men ground to a halt and after a moment the women realised they were no longer alone. With smiles they turned to look at the fancily dressed men standing near Salazar's basket.

"Jean-Luc," Beverly Crushed grinned as she waved him over. She took a sip from her glass. "You really ought to join us," she happily, innocently informed her captain. As Alana had suspected, the woman was already very comfortable around Picard.

"Well, I..." Picard began. He seemed riveted by the sight of Crushed in nothing more than her underwear and pants. Strangely, Rhemus noticed Charin was wearing a top.

After a moment's hesitation, Picard took off his jacket and carefully approached his crewmember. Delicately he put the piece of clothing around her shoulders and helped her to her feet. She wobbled slightly and Picard found he had no alternative but to pick her up. This proved to be a mistake, though, as the woman flung both her arms around his neck and kissed him.

Picard gave Rhemus and Chakotay a lop-sided embarrassed grin. "Well, perhaps I need to get her to her quarters," he informed them. Rhemus frowned.

"I doubt if you would want anyone to see Doctor Crusher in such a condition," he formally told Picard. "Perhaps you could escort her to one of the guest quarters on board the Hippopheralcus."

Picard inclined his head. "An excellent idea," he agreed.

By now Chakotay had gone over to Admiral Janeway and had snatched her top from the pile. While she was joking with him as she stood in front of him, he tried to dress her. After a few seconds Phonixia stuck her arm in the air while cocking her head at a weird angle. In her hand she had the Admiral's jacket. Chakotay smiled at her.

"Thank you," he said as he gave up on pulling a top over Janeway's head and instead put the jacket on.

Rhemus noticed that the Admiral was steadily gaining control of herself – or at least was attempting to do so – and he wondered if she and Chakotay would end up together. She now frowned slightly as she took off her jacket, put on her top (backwards on the first try) and then put on her jacket. Her feet were bare, but she did not seem to notice. Chakotay did and he rummaged around in the pile until he found her boots. Carefully he kneeled in front of her to assist her, but she lost her balance and plopped down on the low table.

"I'm sorry," she said in that peculiar voice of her. "I seem to have drunk more than I should," she informed her friend. He smiled at her.

"You're forgiven...this time," he joked and she smiled rather shyly. Rhemus guessed the drink fed to the four guests were starting to work.

After her had helped her with her boots, Chakotay helped Janeway up and started to lead her to the door where Rhemus still stood. Picard had left, Salazar helping him find the way to the guest quarters. Unfortunately a stray cushion tripped Janeway and Chakotay caught her around her middle. After a short moment where neither moved, the tattooed man bent and picked Janeway up much the same as Picard had picked up Crusher. Only Janeway did not happily embrace the Captain. Instead she tried to insist she could walk on her own.

Chakotay looked down at her. "Kathryn, you're in no condition to argue," he informed her and Rhemus wondered at the man calling the Admiral by name. Previously he had not observed such informal behaviour between them.

As the two of them neared Rhemus, he informed them of the location of the guest quarters, knowing full well Chakotay would find it on their own.

After the two from Voyager had left, the room was silent for a moment. Then it was as if a dam burst and conversation started. The first to speak was Kono.

"Damn, Beverly forgot most of her clothes," she said as she riffled in the pile. With deft movements she and Laura were sorting through the clothes and handing the garments to their owners. Even as Alana was pulling on her boots, Phonixia was showing her a tablet and discussing some details of engineering. Xenedra and Charin were discussing whether Dorfl and Jason would be up for a game of Dabo this time of night and the rest of them were just basically continuing with their night as they would any other night – with the exception of everyone still putting on pieces of clothing. Tempest was the first to leave, taking Crusher's clothes and promising to deliver the items the next morning. An alarm would be placed on the replicator in the room she had been taken to in order to alert Tempest to a time it would be convenient to return the items of clothing.

One by one the women left until at last Alana walked up to Rhemus. She looked tired, but satisfied.

"Has it ever occurred to you that what you just did might be unethical?" he asked her as she leaned over and kissed him. Stepping back she frowned at him.

"You would rather have me mentally compel them?" she asked in return. Her frowned.

"Drugging them is better?" he shot back and she smiled.

"Nagha liqueur could not summon desire where there is none," she replied as she took his arm. "It merely lowers some inhibitions," she added. He looked at the top of her head.

"I was merely wondering," he finally told her.

"I still love you, though," she replied.

#####

Just after lunch Kathryn's door chime sounded and she called for the guest to come in. She was working on a report she had received that morning and was startled as something was placed in front of her. She recognized it as the lost piece of clothing. Looking up she found Chakotay looking down at her.

"I can guarantee you I had not planned last night," she calmly informed him. Though she had finally managed to get some work done, she had spent the better part of the morning considering the night before.

Chakotay smiled at her. "I think someone else did," he replied. She nodded. "Kathryn..." he began, but she cut him off.

"Thank you for returning this," she told him as she stood up, putting the small piece of clothing in the replicator behind her.

"Kathryn..." he tried once more, but she smiled.

"You could have just returned it to the replicator, though," she continued, apparently oblivious to him trying to talk.

"Kathryn!" he said, louder than usual.

"What?" she demanded. "Last night happened. It is over. It should never have happened, but it did and we should move on."

He cocked his head slightly and gave her that small smile he seemed to save only for her. "I'm not sorry it did," he told her.

She looked slightly startled. "You're not?"

He smiled even more. By now she stood before him, speaking in that insistent way she had when angry. But she wasn't angry right now. "Well, I have the rest of the afternoon free," he informed her. For a moment they stood silently staring at one another, and then he sensed her resistance crumbling.

"This is a bad idea," she informed him, but he smiled and swept her into his arms. "Actually, I distinctly recall telling you that last night," she added as he started to carry her to the small bedroom attached to the sitting room.

"I also remember that didn't seem to matter," he added. "Especially as you were taking off my pants at the moment."

She finally laughed out loud. "Well, I was already naked by then. Getting you out of your pants only seemed fair," she explained even as he leaned over to kiss her. He suppose she was right.

#####

Meanwhile, on the Enterprise a similar discussion was taking place.

"Look, we were both intoxicated and that blasted room did not help," Picard was angrily telling Beverly. She smiled as she thought about the room heavy with incense and the glow of candles the only light next to the soft illumination of the stars.

"It was a very nice room," she calmly responded and Picard nearly sputtered with indignation.

"It was a set-up, that's what," he added and she nodded.

"Probably," she agreed with him. This did not seem to make his mood any better, though.

"I should have that woman brought up on charges," he angrily continued and she sighed while rolling her eyes. Picard did not see as he was pacing the room. On his way around she stepped in front of him and he nearly walked into her.

"Jean-Luc," she firmly said as she pushed him down on a seat to his side. She kneeled in front of him.

"What?" he demanded.

"We have known each other a lifetime," she tried to explain, but he would not listen.

"And you were married to my best friend!" he retorted.

"Yes, I was," she calmly spoke. "I do not regret one day of my marriage, except perhaps that you have been using it as an excuse to keep me at a distance for years now." She shook her head. "He's been dead a long time and I, for one, had moved on with my life. That does not mean I love him less, but I would like to once more feel that way about someone else again."

"You...would?" he asked; baffled. She put on her best 'mom' expression, the one she hadn't used since Wesley had been a small child.

"You know, sometimes you can be really dense," she seriously informed him. "And rather silly," she added.

"I...could?" he parroted once more. She nodded, aware that he had somehow lost the plot of the conversation.

"And now I would like you to kiss me again," she continued, still using the same voice. For a moment he seemed to struggle with his conscience, but then gave up. Carefully he reached out and gently touched her cheek. The moment stretched between them, but then he pulled her closer, still gently but firmly, and finally kissed her as she wanted him to.