Author: CK (DrLizThirose)
Summary: Chances are you find me somewhere on your road tonight...
Disclaimer: All Paramount. Sorry.
A/N: Takes place after Hunters and then goes AU, because you can't fit it into the timeline anymore as it is changed completely. The first date is taken from the stardate named in Hunters, and converted with a stardate calculator.
Lyrics and title are taken from "Chances Are", a song performed by Vonda Sheppard and Robert Downey Jr.
This is a romantic tale of some sort, telling a different story of Kathryn and Chakotay. I tried to stay true to the characters and still show how it could have been.
And just so you know - originally this was supposed to be a short fluffy story. Yeah. Then my muse got her hands on it.
Chances are you'll find me / Somewhere on your road tonight / Seems I always end up driving by
Ever since I've known you / It just seems you're on my way / All the rules of logic don't apply
After rain, there always comes sunshine.
That was Tom Paris' comment after Voyager's first short contact with the Valeriji.
And indeed, this new race did strike everyone as the literal sunshine after a bad thunderstorm. Not only meant entering their region of space clearing Hirogen territory. It also meant being welcomed with open arms the moment the ship crossed the borders to this new region, and finding themselves amidst a very kind and benign race, open to visitors, new experiences and knowledge - something that Voyager's crew wasn't used to anymore. But here they were.
The welcome committee consisted of five ships; four small ones, about three times the size of a shuttle, and one bigger one, equaling the Intrepid class vessel from Earth. While the four smaller ones stayed behind, Voyager was hailed and greeted by the larger ship. A humanoid figure that mostly stood out optically from humans by its two vertical eye slits and the cartilage-like wreath that went from its shoulders up its necks, around the top of the head, and back down to the other shoulder, bowed as soon as it appeared in the view screen.
"Merry greetings, strangers. I am Ambassador Avelen, official representative of the Valeriji Alliance, here to kindly welcome you to our territories."
"Thank you very much, ambassador," Voyager's captain responded smiling, "My name is Kathryn Janeway of the Federation starship Voyager. We're travelers and explorers from a far quadrant on our way home, and seek passage through your territories." The alien woman nodded.
"We are no one to stop or hinder one's journeys. Would you mind us coming aboard your ship to talk about all necessary specifics?"
"Not at all. We can beam you aboard immediately."
In no time, Voyager's senior staff found itself accompanied by Valeriji ambassadors Avelen and Toleni, an older and a younger female representative of the species. Seated in the briefing room, cordialities were exchanged and introductions made before both sides eagerly got into business. As much business as there was, at least. The Valeriji were no pig-headed negotiation partners who offered the little finger, and when someone tried to take it, suddenly lunged forward and grabbed the whole hand of the other. They were generous and open-minded, and if they kept at least half of what the first impression they made promised, Voyager biggest worry would be minor offenders Avelen made no secret of having in their otherwise peaceful society.
Captain Janeway and her senior officers learned that the territory the Valeriji claimed was incredibly wide. Or more, the systems inhabited by all planets and species that belonged to the Valeriji Alliance, some kind of Delta Quadrant variant of the Federation it seemed, was. At constant high warp speed - something technical restrictions made impossible - it would take Voyager around half a year to cross the distance.
Realistic calculations spoke of four years.
"Ambassador, as I said before, we would be very thankful if you could grant us passage through your territory. Seeing now how far it reaches, it is even more important to us, as flying through your space would shorten our journey significantly. Do you see any chance to make this possible?"
"Of course, captain! I would like to ask you to propose your intended route, so we can make some... arrangements. Some cultures in our alliance are quite shy and cautious when it comes to contact with guests, and we would like to announce your coming should you pass their planets."
"That shouldn't be a problem. Ensign Kim will give you all information you need and answer whatever else question you may have concerning our route."
Harry Kim, seated next to Toleni, studied the characteristics of her appearance closely and curiously; despite having found their look something he had to get used to at first, he now considered especially young Toleni, with her gentle nature and her regal but still modest demeanor, as exotically beautiful. He was so entranced by her that he didn't hear his captain call him; only when B'Elanna, beside him, nudged him with her foot against his leg, he took a confused look around.
"Ensign Kim, are you still with us?" Janeway asked, a trace of amusement in her voice when she saw how Toleni, in realization, laughed silently.
"Yes. Of course. I'm sorry, ma'am," he hastily confirmed and sat up straight, indicating that he was all ears. His friend Tom Paris, sitting across from him, shook his head and grinned. "The... um... maps. Right. I'll take care of it and show them to you, ambassador."
"Thank you." Avelen seemed to think for a moment, then continued, once again addressing the captain. "I will give you a map and a list of planets you are not to explore or contact. Some of the cultures do not want any contact to alien species other than the ones on their surrounding planets. If you like, I can also provide you with information on planets that may be suitable for you to spend free-time on, or that may hold food you can restock your supplies with."
Janeway clawed onto every straw that would help her to keep her composure. Her heart went out to these people who would hopefully - if this all wasn't but a dream - give her crew the chance to be freed of this permanent sword of Damocles hanging over their heads for a while. "We can never thank you for your kindness."
"No, really, captain, it is such a pleasure for us to meet new species and cultures, and I am sure yours will be a great enrichment. We are eager to learn everything about you and your history." With that, Avelen rose from her seat. "But for now, there are a few more important things I would like to talk to you about in private, captain. You and Commander Chakotay, specifically."
Voyager's officers exchanged curious glances, wondering what this could be about. Nevertheless, they obediently left the briefing room when the captain dismissed them, all of them but Chakotay. He remained with the two Valeriji ambassadors. As soon as the quiet had returned to the room, Avelen began to speak.
"There is something else I have to ask you to do. For you to be recognized as your ship's commanders by our people when you encounter them, you and Commander Chakotay need to undergo a traditional ritual. You have to understand, all species in the Valeriji Alliance once agreed to certain conditions; similar to what I understand is the... hierarchic structure on your ship. Everyone claiming a certain rank or position within society, in profession or duty, even in families, is marked." Avelen didn't miss the slightly critical, if not worried, look the humans exchanged. "Commander, I assume you are familiar with marking rituals, seeing that you possess an identifying symbol yourself?" Unconsciously, Chakotay touched his tattoo when he nodded.
"Yes, my people use this to signify our heritage and honor our ancestors," he confirmed. The alien woman bowed her head shortly in acknowledgement.
"The mark you will receive from us will not be this prominent; in fact, it will only be visible to us. It will be applied by an age-old technique of energy-channeling and will not harm your bodies in any way. You are welcome to do a security check at the site where the ritual will be performed, and also scan all people and objects involved."
"Why only us? Or, why the two of us and not only one?" Janeway wanted to know; putting herself in possible danger was one thing - those strangers appeared trustworthy, but experience had told her to be better safe than sorry - but risking the health of one of her crewmembers was a completely different matter.
"You two are this ship's leaders, the first and second in command, are you not?" Both humans nodded, understanding that Avelen wasn't asking a rhetorical question, but indeed wanted to assure that she was right in her assumptions. "It is always the commanding duo that is respected as the ship's leaders. We have a long tradition of believing in the power of shared knowledge and wisdom in commanding a ship." Silently, both Janeway and Chakotay wondered for a moment whether Avelen was realizing that they didn't have the same standing, but the captain was the highest ranking officer and her first officer 'only' below her in command structure. On the other hand, the Valeriji ambassador had been talking about them as first and second in command, so the fact obviously was clear to her. Her next words seemed to confirm that. "But as I said before, it will change nothing for you; it will merely be an... information for our people that thus will also allow you free passage through our territories."
Voyager's commanding officers shared a short look; they didn't need to say a word, they knew each other well enough to talk with their eyes only.
"Then we will gladly follow your rules and rituals, ambassador," Janeway finally agreed.
"Thank you. You will be awaited at the Grand Center Plaza of our capital city tomorrow. We will notify you in time; the ritual has to be carried out when the second sun reaches its highest peak. All other information you may find useful will be transferred to your computer's database."
"Then we look forward to hearing from you." Bidding farewell to Avelen and Toleni, both ambassadors were led away by a security guard and brought to the transporter room to beam back to their ship.
Janeway and Chakotay remained in the briefing room a moment longer; both lost in their own thoughts until the captain spoke again.
"We should study the data they give us. Just to be sure."
"Agreed, Captain. I'll get to it as soon as they've transferred it."
Janeway nodded her thanks and watched him leave the room as well. A strange feeling settled in her stomach, some premonition she couldn't quite get a grab of. She willed herself to relax. These were friendly people, and until now, her initial impression had often been right. Here, she had had a good feeling from the first moment on. Tomorrow, they would follow their traditions and go through with this ritual. She and Chakotay would be marked as Voyager's leaders, just as Valeriji traditions asked for.
The day was warm, but surprisingly, and despite two suns sharing their energy with the planet, not too hot. If anything, it was the perfect day for outdoor celebrations - for exactly what the Valeriji were preparing. The Grand Central Plaza was richly decorated and already filled with people when a delegation of Voyager crewmembers beamed down. They were greeted warm-heartedly, although it felt a bit like an attack, as countless curious citizens who wanted to know everything about their visitors surrounded them within seconds.
As soon as Avelen approached them, however, the masses immediately parted, and most of them bowed to show their respect.
"Welcome to our home world," the ambassador spoke, addressing their visitors - Voyager's captain and commander, Lieutenant Commander Tuvok with two security officers, Neelix, and Harry Kim, the latter on special request by Toleni, who appeared at his side and pulled him away before he had any chance to protest.
While Avelen talked to Janeway and Chakotay to explain the proceedings that would follow, the security team surveyed and scanned the area thoroughly. Expectedly, they found nothing suspicious.
Voyager's commanding duo was led to the middle of the plaza, and seated, their backs to each other, on low stone cubicles of a deep green color that was laced with golden streaks. They had to lean against each other, the backs and heads touching, and take each other's hands.
"The connection of your bodies will result in the markings," Avelen had explained before, "and your backs will be to each other because it symbolizes your support and deep trust for the other - even with your backs turned."
Four Valeriji equivalents to monks circled the pair as they sat, eyes closed, listening to a faint chanting coming from no particular direction. Soon, both humans felt a curious warmth build between their bodies, just where their shoulders connected. It slowly turned into heat that nonetheless wasn't uncomfortable, and flowed down their arms to their joined hands. Janeway felt a shudder go through her body, and realized that the same was happening to Chakotay; feelings they were not able to identify spread through every single cell and overwhelmed their senses for a moment.
And for the fraction of a second, all these sensations clarified to the impression of souls merging together.
Meanwhile, at the edge of the big main square, Harry Kim and Toleni had taken place on one of the wooden trunk-like seating arrangements. A careful, shy distance between them but nevertheless with their hands touching, they followed the whole ritual in silence, content to not be amidst all those people, the masses standing around Voyager's commanding duo. From where they sat they had a perfect view, as they'd chosen the side of the main square that led uphill.
"They look like such a happy couple. It is as if you can see the beauty of their romance around them in the air. They have a great future awaiting them, I am sure." Harry first looked incredulously at Toleni; then he laughed.
"No, you got that wrong. They're no couple," he corrected, still chuckling. He couldn't help himself; somehow, the idea of the captain and the commander as a romantic couple seemed completely unimaginable to him.
"But they are, Harry Kim. And they were just bonded to be recognized as such also throughout our region of space." The young ensign stared at the alien woman open-mouthed.
"You've got to be kidding me," he murmured and was met by a look of bewilderment. "I mean... They're our commanding duo," he said, louder now. "Nothing more. I thought you said the ritual is to-"
"Bind your commandeering couple properly, yes. As it is tradition, and demanded by our laws."
"But... they're just colleagues," Harry croaked his protest, a feeling of panic crawling up inside him.
"How can they be? They command a ship and a crew together."
"How can they be... just colleagues?" Toleni tasted the words on her tongue like they were some bitter elixir. "How can they command a ship together when they are not bonded partners in life?" Harry could only do so much as gape at her. "All of our ships, throughout Valeriji territory, are commandeered by bounded couples. It... is essential for the crews of our ships to see and feel the bond of love between their leaders. Only this assures that they will work together symbiotically. The commanders are like... like the mother and father of their crews. They can only function this way. And do Kathryn Janeway and Chakotay not resemble that to you?"
"No! Well... yes, in some way I guess they do, but..."
"See. You are a funny species. You were making fun of me, were you not?" Toleni laughed, a sound beautiful as that of a wind chime gently moved be a light breeze. But for once, Harry Kim couldn't admire the beauty of it. He could only stare at her and try to make a face that didn't show all the pain and shock and horror he felt. If he understood this correctly, his captain and commander had just been wedded. And it was too late to stop the ritual now, as it just of this second was announced to be completed. He heard Avelen congratulate the oblivious couple and thank them for respecting their traditions and laws, and how Janeway responded that it was their honor and pleasure.
When the Valeriji woman next to him exclaimed, "Your Kathryn Janeway and Chakotay are very lucky," Harry felt his heart drop into his toes.
And they will be furious when they find out, he thought and followed Toleni who pulled him with her into the middle of the festivities.
Voyager crew had decided to remain half a day longer than planned on the planet Avelen had invited them to. The celebrations had went on until morning hours, and Captain Janeway would have been the last one to deny her hard-working, dutiful crew a day off. If anyone deserved it, it was them.
Only when the sun began to set the next evening, the Starfleet vessel departed to resume its course home.
As Avelen had told them before, they encountered several ships on their way - already in the first few weeks. Other than that, their journey was uneventful. They scanned the area and avoided planets they'd been asked to keep their distance to; they made new acquaintances on other worlds, and collected first samples of what promised to soon turn into a supply of food so huge that it would probably feed them for the next thirty to forty years, minimum. The occasional chance meetings with other ships always turned out to be pleasant, interesting, sometimes even funny.
For the first time in years, Voyager's crew truly felt like they were traveling among friends.