Pairing : J/C
Setting: Early 3rd season, about a month after "Resolutions"
Summary Janeway & Chakotay visit an alien marketplace after a tip-off from Tom Paris. A small scene that kept playing in my head
The market square was crowded and noisy and the air was filled with the pungent aroma of fruits, vegetables, and spices warmed by the sun.
From the high steps of a building on one edge of the square, Captain Kathryn Janeway and Commander Chakotay looked out over the heads of a milling crowd, searching for a particular stall.
"There it is," Chakotay said, pointing to the opposite side of the square. "At ten o'clock... see it?"
Kathryn nodded. "A green and white striped awning with a yellow fringe... just as Tom described it. I can almost smell it." Eager to get to the stall, she took off down the steps. "Come on, let's go. The market will be closing soon."
She was just about to disappear into the crowd when Chakotay caught up with her, firmly reining her in with a hand on her shoulder.
Shrugging off his hand she turned and scowled at him. "Chakotay, it's right there. I'll be fine!"
"Of course you will, but humour me just this once." Stepping closer, he lowered his voice so that only she could hear what he was saying. "They're a kind and friendly people, but most Dalaisian adults are over eight feet tall. Once you step into that crowd you'll be swallowed up - whole. I need to know exactly where you are in case there's any trouble."
"There won't be any trouble. You just said so yourself ; the Dalaisians are a kind and friendly people."
"Yes, but we aren't the only visitors to this planet. Tuvok's initial security report specifically noted that some of the races who come here for repairs and supplies are Trouble - with a capital T. We're not allowed to carry weapons, Starfleet means nothing here, and your uniform won't protect you if a brawl breaks out." He smiled then, bringing his dimples into play like some heavenly trump card. "If you won't listen to your First Officer, at least listen to your best friend."
"Oh, you're good," Kathryn said, drily. "You're very good."
"I learned from the best."
"I'll bet you did."
Looking at the crowd, she gave a resigned sigh. "Fine. How does my best friend want to do this?"
"Nothing drastic. Just a couple of sensible precautions." As he spoke his eyes travelled over the buildings that surrounded the market square. "If we get separated, make for the statue on the steps of that cream-coloured building on the North side. It's the tallest building in the square and you should be able to see its spire from anywhere if you look up."
"Statue. Cream-coloured building on the North side," she repeated. "Got it. What else?"
He held out his right hand. "We hold hands." He expected her to bridle and complain that she wasn't a child, but she surprised him, meekly taking his hand with a lopsided grin.
"Is that everything... can we go now?"
"Yes, that's everything. Just hold on tight," he smiled, giving her hand a light squeeze as he stepped forward into the crowd. "Let's go and buy you lots and lots of delicious Dalaisian coffee-beans."
There was no overt pushing and shoving as the towering crowd closed in around them, but just as Chakotay predicted, it did feel a little like being swallowed whole.
As he led them across the square, Chakotay's innate sense of direction was attuned to the ebb and flow of any course changes they had to make, while the rest of his mind exulted in being off the ship with Kathryn for company. It just doesn't get any better than this, he thought to himself. The sun's shining, the birds are singing, there's not a cloud in the sky, and the woman I love is holding my hand. He was still a little surprised that Kathryn had agreed to that so readily, but he wasn't going to waste time over-thinking her reasons. He was just going to enjoy it while he could.
Following along behind him, Kathryn was confident that she wouldn't come to any deliberate harm, but it was reassuring to feel Chakotay's large hand wrapped around hers and know that he was just a step or two ahead of her. The Dalaisians were very tall and there were a lot of them packed into the square, milling around and intermittantly blocking out the sun as they moved from stall to stall looking for last minute bargains. Her lack of height rarely bothered her, but being surrounded by a crowd of very tall, preoccupied aliens was a little disconcerting.
Just then, almost as if he could read her thoughts, Chakotay gave her hand an encouraging squeeze. She squeezed back and he turned to look at her briefly, his handsome face lit by a broad grin. He's loving this, she realised. We're off the ship, it's a beautiful day, and we're holding hands. She suddenly knew exactly how he felt, because she felt the same way as her spirit soared. Her own romantic daydreams and wishes aside, it just didn't get any better than this for them. Not while they had a ship to run and over 140 people depending on them to stay focused and make the right decisions.
All too soon they reached the other side of the square and the stall they wanted. Still holding hands, they made their way to the counter and exchanged greetings and pleasantries with the stall-holder - a blue-haired Dalaisian with a jovial face and a slick line in patter.
Kathryn, of course, was like the proverbial kid in a sweet shop. Left to her own devices she would have bought every coffee bean in sight without even tasting them first, but between them, Chakotay and the stall-holder convinced her to try little sips of each brewed into coffee, and make a list of her favourites.
When she had sipped and re-sipped several brews and whittled her list down from twelve to eight, the stall-holder began to bag up the beans in batches of roughly two pounds in weight.
Seeing that it was going to take a while for their order to be made up, Chakotay caught the stall-holder's eye and pointed to the low steps of a building not far from the stall, indicating that they'd wait there. The stall-holder nodded his understanding and stopped scooping beans just long enough to hand Kathryn something in a small paper bag as a thank-you for the order.
They settled themselves side-by-side on the steps and Kathryn immediately peered into the bag.
"Oh, my. I think I've died and gone to heaven," she murmured. "Look! Chocolate-covered coffee beans! I didn't see these on display, did you?"
She offered the bag to Chakotay as she spoke and he took a small handful. He loved them as much as Kathryn did, but he wanted her to enjoy most of them and it was only a small bag.
"No, I didn't see any on the stall. They're quite cold, so he must keep them in an ice-box or something under the counter. He'd have to really, wouldn't he. It's been a pretty warm day today and that awning is only good for keeping things in the shade."
"Do you think he'd sell us a big bag... a really big bag? Kathryn asked around a mouthful of beans.
"I don't see why not," Chakotay said, popping a few beans into his mouth. "We'll ask him when we pay for the order."
The market square was emptying now as most stall-holders sold the last of their wares and began to put up gaily painted, wooden shutters. As the Dalaisian shoppers left, more and more of the elegant architecture of the square became visible and it was very pleasant to just sit and watch an alien world go by. As they munched coffee-beans, they discussed the relative chances of two civilisations, thousands of light years apart, discovering chocolate, coffee, and chocolate-covered coffee beans. They also jokingly discussed the merits of giving Tom a promotion for finding out that the Dalaisians harvested a coffee-like bean, and for tracking down a supplier during his shore-leave. Eventually though, the jovial, blue-haired stall-holder waved them over.
Rising, they dusted themselves off and made their way back to the stall.
As he was about to pay for their purchases, Chakotay asked about the chocolate-covered beans and sure enough, the stall-holder was only too happy to sell them a very large, pre-packed bag he took out of a refrigeration unit under the counter.
After everything had been paid for, Kathryn contacted the ship and asked for their purchases to be transported to cargo bay 2, and for Neelix to be informed of their arrival so he could update their current stores list.
As the transporter beam cleared, she turned and looked around at the square again. There were still a couple of stall-holders open for business and one or two shoppers lingered, but most had left, making their way home for the traditional family meal that was served at sunset. She was going to be sad to leave this planet of gentle giants behind when the time came, she decided. The kindness of the people, the clarity of the air, the sunshine, and the delicious and plentiful food had been such a welcome respite after travelling through one hostile territory after another. Try as she might, she couldn't even think of a reason to rush back to the ship right now. Tuvok would have everything running smoothly and there were no reports awaiting her input or approval.
"We don't have to go back to the ship right away," Chakotay said, interrupting her thoughts. "We could have dinner here if you like? B'Elanna mentioned an excellent seafood restaurant that's not far from here."
Kathryn wondered when it was that he'd learned to read her so easily. "Yes, I'd like that. An evening stroll, a few glasses of chilled wine and a seafood dinner... sounds wonderful."
"It does, doesn't it. Alright then, let's do it."
He offered her his arm and Kathryn started to take it, then changed her mind and took his hand instead. "Just a precaution as we cross the square," she smiled. "We wouldn't want to lose one another in the crowd, would we?" As she laced her fingers through his, she hoped that he really could read her like a book.
Chakotay looked around at the deserted square and then back at her. He didn't say anything at first, but he was smiling and there was a world of understanding in his eyes. "No, Kathryn, we wouldn't want to lose one another in the crowd. Just hold on tight...."