Author's notes: Thanks to Jemima for the beta and Sara for a bit o' hand holding. This is in response to the fic challenge on the CSFic list inspired by Becca's Seven 'fiddle'.
She flinches at the prick of needle against her skin. She clutches the edge of the bed, turning her head slightly to look at the holo-images on the wall. The artist showed her a variety of designs but she rejected them all; instead she had presented the drawing to him.
"This is what I desire," she told him.
"This is an unusual design," the artist said.
She regarded him coolly. "Yes."
"I haven't seen one like it before."
"It is Native American in origin. It has symbolic value."
"Are you sure this is the one you want?" His expression was neutral.
"Yes." That was a lie. She wasn't sure.
That was the hard part. She twisted slightly, lifting her shirt with one hand and pushed at the waistband of her pants with the other. "Here," she said quietly. Her face felt hot as the artist eyed her.
"Fine," he said. "Lie down. On your stomach."
She hadn't expected it to hurt. Prick, yes, but not this constant, dull throb. Perhaps she shouldn't have chosen the old-fashioned way, should have chosen the ink-transport method which is quick and painless. But then she remembers why she wanted to feel in the first place. The sheet beneath her is cool against her bare stomach. She closes her eyes, blocks out the sting of the needle. She concentrates only on the reason why she's doing this and what it means.
He's late coming home. She is nervous, pacing the kitchen. Dinner has long grown cold. She wonders why he didn't call. She can't help the tiny prick of suspicion.
He was in San Francisco today. The Captain -- Admiral now -- is in San Francisco. They met for lunch.
She smoothes the silky red fabric of her dress. The dress is new, replicated just this morning, its design based on a pattern from a women's magazine. She usually resists these kinds of impulses; they are inefficient, counterproductive, not relevant -- all of those things. But this dress is cut low in the front, the material barely skimming over her breasts. The back dips low, the skirt clings to her hips and thighs, before swirling slightly around her knees. She chose it because she thought Chakotay would like it, like *her* in it.
She sits down, twisting her hands together.
It's getting dark now and she thinks about turning on the lights. Something low, she thinks, remembering that tonight is supposed to be romantic, a night he promised to share with her.
"I know it's customary to trade gifts on Valentine's Day," he told her gently. He'd lifted her chin gently with his fingers so that they were looking at each other directly. "For some people, it's special. Other people don't place much stock in it. I'm not sure, myself, that it's necessary to have a day set aside to tell the person you love that--" he had stopped there, looked at her meaningfully, "that you do love them."
She was intrigued by the holiday, however, when a co-worker at the Research Institute had shared with her his plans for Valentine's Day. Later that night, she had said to Chakotay that given his reservations about Valentine's Day, perhaps that they should simply plan to spend the day together; it had been a long time after all, given their busy schedules. He had agreed, said he looked forward to it.
But this morning, he'd gone to San Francisco for a meeting and then had lunch with the Admiral.
She curls up on the sofa, tucking her legs beneath her.
She hates feeling jealous. It's a useless feeling. But she's aware -- even if he won't admit it -- that once, he had had feelings for the Admiral.
She bites her lip and settles back against the curve of the sofa.
The door swings open. Three hours late. He looks tired. She braces herself.
"Seven." He says her name wearily.
She rouses herself from the sofa. Is this where he tells her? Is this how he explains that yes, they've been together for three years now, that even though he's enjoyed their time together, it's the Admiral he wants, needs?
"I'm sorry," he says. He runs a hand through his hair. "I didn't notice the time. My meetings ran later than I expected and I just lost track..." his voice drifts off as he looks at Seven guiltily.
She is relieved by his admission. So, the Admiral was not the reason for his delay. "It's all right."
He drops his bag to the floor, his files on the table. "I'm sorry you had to wait and--" he takes another long look at her, "you look beautiful."
She blushes, warmed by the tone of his voice. "Thank you."
"Really beautiful." He's eyeing her with undisguised lust.
"How is the Admiral?" she cannot help but ask.
"Janeway?" he shrugs. "She's doing well. Very happy and I believe, involved in high level negotiations." He smiles. "It felt like old times for a while there. We talked about Voyager a lot. An awful lot." For a moment, he looks pensive. "Maybe that's all there ever was between us -- Voyager. And in the end, she picked Voyager."
"I see." Her throat feels tight at Chakotay's admission of -- of what? Not exactly guilt, not exactly love, not exactly anything. Still, she doesn't like how it makes her feel -- something like second best. She moves into the kitchen, begins warming up the food. She needs something to do, to distract herself from what Chakotay just said to her. She calms herself enough to start transferring food onto blue pottery plates. She made the entire meal from scratch this afternoon, having skipped the replicator, knowing Chakotay prefers fresh food to replicated. "You must have had a pleasant conversation with the Admiral."
"I did. And that's all it was. A pleasant conversation between good friends." His voice takes on an inflection she can't name. Chakotay leans against the wall, watching her. "You seem unnerved, Seven. Is something bothering you?"
She glances at him, swallowing the lump forming in her throat. "No," she says finally. She manages a thin-lipped smile. "Nothing."
"You sure? You look a little pale." He seems worried now.
"I am concentrating on your dinner."
But it's obvious from the expression in his eyes that he's thinking about something other than dinner. "I like the dress, very nice." His lips turn up. "Sexy." She can't help but notice the note of mischief that crept into his tone.
She tips her head to the side. "Thank you."
"Come here." His voice is husky, raw.
She goes to him.
She doesn't remember if she turned off the stove. It doesn't matter. She's lying in bed, the dress a pool of red on the floor. His lips are tracing a path down her stomach. She closes her eyes, opening them only when he suddenly stops.
"Seven? What is this?" He sounds surprised. He nudges her slightly and she obliges, rolling onto her side. His fingers trace the outline of the delicate blue-black lines of the tattoo.
"Do you like it?" She is nervous.
"Like it?" he sounds amused. He presses his fingers to the spot and then, languidly, begins to stroke her upper thigh. "I didn't -- I never--" he pauses. She flips onto her back, looking at him. "It's exactly like mine."
"Yes." Now she wonders if she was wrong now to do this. "I can get it removed if it displeases you. I believe the removal procedure only takes a few minutes and is without much pain."
"No, no, don't." He presses his lips to the hollow at the base of her neck. "I like it. Very much. So much so, I'd like to see it again."
She stirs, giving him the perfect view.
"You know what this means, don't you?" he asks. Now he sounds perfectly serious.
"Tattoos last forever. That's a long time."
"I'm aware of that."
"I like that," he says quietly. "But I- I never thought that you would want something so permanent." It's the first time he has admitted any insecurity about their relationship to her. She kisses him.
"I do," she says. "Our lives have been combined to such a degree that it is only efficient to seek a more permanent solution."
He grins. "Not the most romantic proposal ever but it'll have to do." He kisses her lips, pulling her close, his palms resting on her stomach. "I am sorry, Seven, I didn't do anything. I promise, I'll make it up to you. If I had known what you were thinking, what you were going to do, I would have..." He presses his cheek against hers. His voice is barely louder than a whisper when he says, "And I accept."
She doesn't respond, knowing he has given her confirmation of the only thing she has ever required of him. Soon, she is lost in his touch, in the feel of his skin next to hers.
~ the end ~
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