Disclaimer: Paramount is paramount.
Author's Note: Set right after "Scientific Method." This one is for Rocky, as she "made me do it." She's forgiven though, as she gave this story a most excellent beta reading.
Chakotay hesitated in front of Janeway's door. The text message he'd found on his personal PADD display had been short and to the point: "Dinner, 1900 hours, my quarters. I have some personnel issues I need to discuss with you." There was no ambiguity about the message; this would clearly be yet *another* working dinner, and for that reason, Chakotay left behind the bottle of wine he had replicated a couple weeks previously. He also decided to remain in uniform, rather than change into more casual clothing.
The doors slid open and Chakotay entered. He saw Janeway on the other side of the table, lighting the white tapered candles; he couldn't help but notice the bottle of Ktarian Merlot just to the left of a large casserole dish.
"Right on time, Commander," Janeway said as she blew out the match. She looked comfortable in her gray t-shirt and uniform pants; her jacket had been tossed carelessly across the back of the sofa.
"Smells good," Chakotay said awkwardly as he glanced around the quarters. The dim lights, the candles, Janeway's fine china dishes instead of the clunky, gray ceramic Starfleet-issued ones - what *did* the Captain want to discuss with him?
"Thanks," Janeway said. She nodded towards the table. "I found some new recipes in the database and thought I'd try them out."
Chakotay took a few steps towards the table to survey the food. The usual salad and bread rolls were already served, but the main entree was unfamiliar to him.
"And this is?" he asked..
"A tomato, portobello mushroom and olive quiche, garnished with basil. From the south of France," Janeway said. "I hope you like it."
"It sounds delicious," Chakotay said. "As you know, I have a special fondness for mushrooms."
Janeway tipped her head slightly to the side. "Hmmm, I heard a rumor to that effect at one time. Have a seat, Commander. I'm glad you could make it on such short notice. I meant to talk to you earlier, but flying through a pulsar can be a bit of a distraction."
Chakotay nodded. Janeway's decision to take Voyager through the heart of a pulsar had caused much concern and consternation among the senior staff. However, the risky move had succeeded in ridding Voyager of the pesky aliens who had spent the last few days performing various experiments on its crew.
"I appreciate the invite. Dinner with you certainly beats the mess hall." Chakotay took his seat. "Rumor has it that Neelix is going all out with a leola root themed dinner. Last I heard, some of the crew were pooling their rations to have pizza instead."
Janeway grimaced. "Neelix means well. I hope someone shows up for his dinner."
"As long as it's not you?" Chakotay teased.
"Well, rank does have its privileges," Janeway said. Her grin was two parts sly and one part mischief. "Wouldn't you agree, Commander?"
"I most certainly would," Chakotay said as Janeway passed by him, her hand gentle on his shoulder as she leaned over his plate. Was she wearing *perfume*? "I take it you're feeling much better now?"
"Nothing like the headache from hell to make you appreciate modern medicine," Janeway said. "And I have developed a new sympathy for lab rats." Carefully, Janeway served the salad and then circled the table to return to her seat. "I see your hair has grown back nicely."
Chakotay ran his hand through his hair, almost self-consciously. The aliens, who had chosen to turn Voyager into their own petri dish, had affected nearly everyone on board in one way or another. In Chakotay's case, he had aged prematurely, losing his hair and watching his skin mottle and wrinkle. Not to mention, the painful aches in his joints and the fading vision in his eyes. It had been, Chakotay thought, a humbling experience.
"With thanks to the Doctor," Chakotay said. "I believe most everyone on the ship is back to normal in one shape or another. Of course, the psychological damage will take months, if not years to heal. Some of the crew suffered potentially life-threatening changes while others simply experienced mood swings, whether due to hormones or pain."
"I can certainly relate to the last," Janeway said wryly. "I couldn't even think clearly with that infernal pounding in my head. I know I said at least one or two things that, in retrospect, I regret."
"Snapping at Tuvok, coming down as hard as I did on Tom and B'Elanna." Janeway sipped her wine thoughtfully.
"I don't think you were out of line. Tom and B'Elanna's behavior was unacceptable and to use your word, 'adolescent.'" Chakotay helped himself to a roll; the bread, wrapped in a white napkin, was still warm and the butter melted quickly.
"But it's something to think about in the future," Janeway said earnestly. "How are we going to handle *serious* romantic relationships on Voyager and what are the appropriate parameters for conducting such a relationship?"
"I'm not sure it's something we can *handle*. We had this conversation four years ago, Kathryn, when we first found ourselves out here." Chakotay remembered finding a pair of crewmen in a turbolift, engaged in what could only be politely termed as 'heavy petting'. At the time, he had brought the matter to Janeway's attention and her attitude had been to allow such intimacies to occur, but under the caveat of discretion. Given the Captain's thoughts on the matter then, Chakotay wondered why she had chosen to bring the subject up now. "You knew *then* that it was inevitable the crew would start to pair up seriously. I'm only surprised it took so long for that prediction to come true."
"Regardless," Janeway said thoughtfully, "I don't think defining some guidelines for *appropriate* behavior would be out of line."
Chakotay helped himself to some more quiche. In the process, his foot inadvertently knocked against Janeway's; she didn't seem to notice. "With all due respect, Kathryn, I'm not sure guidelines are very helpful when it comes to romance." He lifted his head so that he was looking directly at the Captain. "Some things simply defy explanation. Or rules, for that matter."
"Then you disagree?" Janeway sounded more amused than disappointed. "You think we should just let relationships progress naturally without interference?"
"I think that will happen regardless." Chakotay shrugged. "We're seventy years from home. It's a fair bet to say that Tom and B'Elanna won't be the first and last couple aboard Voyager. Despite their obvious attraction to each other over the years, I don't think either of us could have predicted that their friendship would evolve into something more serious than a mild flirtation. Though, if I recall correctly, you said not too long ago you hoped they could get past their 'bickering'. I guess you got what you wanted."
Janeway reached to pour the wine. Her fingers grazed lightly against Chakotay's as their glasses clinked against each other. "You're right, Commander, but I can't help but feel that some *definition* is necessary. But I've been at a loss about what to do. Which is why I need your advice." Janeway smiled. "Because when it comes to 'mating behavior', I consider you the ship's expert." This last bit held a characteristic undercurrent of teasing.
"I'll take that as a compliment." Chakotay smiled.
"And I know the crew comes to you with their problems," Janeway went on, seemingly not noticing Chakotay's previous remark. "If anyone knows what's going on in the personal lives of our people, it's you. And despite my desire for Tom and B'Elanna to actually become *friends*, you're right, I would have never predicted a *serious* romantic relationship between the two of them. It makes me wonder what other developing relationships I should be aware of."
"As you've just said, the evolution of feelings is impossible to predict," Chakotay said. He finished off the last of his quiche. "This was delicious, Kathryn."
"Thank you. So, is this recipe a keeper?"
"I certainly prefer it to the tofu roast."
Janeway laughed. "It's certainly easier on the replicator as well." She broke her roll in half, crumbs drifting down to her plate. "As I was saying, Chakotay, I consider this matter of romantic relationships between crewmembers important. Before dinner tonight, I reread the Starfleet manual on fraternization. The regulations are very clear on intimate relations between officers, not to mention, the complex issues regarding commanding officers and their subordinates."
"Voyager is an entirely different scenario, Kathryn. You can't issue regulations about matters of the heart, telling people who they can or cannot fall in love with." Chakotay's lips turned upward. "Especially when you consider the limited pool our people have to choose from. When it comes to romance, I'm afraid we're going to have to level the playing field and put everyone on equal footing. In other words, ignore issues of hierarchy."
"You've given this a great deal of thought."
"Some," Chakotay admitted. Okay, *a lot* and mostly for selfish reasons; but this wasn't the time or place for confessions. Truth be told, after four years in the middle of the DQ, Chakotay was surprised that more crewmembers hadn't pulled a "Tom and B'Elanna." Yes, there had been "casual" dates between crewmember and rumors of who was seeing who, who had broken up with who. Given the speed of Voyager's rumor mill, Chakotay seriously doubted most of the crew had the necessary discretion to pull off a romantic liaison, serious *or* casual, without the rest of the ship knowing about it. "I'm surprised this 'problem' didn't arise earlier."
"It takes time to accept the fact that we are stuck out here in the middle of the DQ," Janeway said. She bit her lip. "And that it'll be seventy years before we'll see our loved ones again. It's not so easy to turn away from those you care about, even given the great distance and time that separates us from those we've committed to."
Chakotay didn't bother to mention that given the fact Voyager had had no contact with the Alpha Quadrant in four years, it was likely that the majority of their relatives had given them up for dead. In these circumstances, along with a necessity of a second generation to see Voyager home, serious romantic commitments were inevitable.
"It sounds like you've given this some thought as well," Chakotay said softly. "Any particular reason? Obvious concerns about Lieutenants Paris and Torres aside?"
Janeway shifted in her chair, turning slightly so that she was no longer looking directly at Chakotay. "I'm concerned about the effect long-term, committed relationships could have on Voyager. For instance, would assigning both Tom and B'Elanna to the same away team affect the integrity of a mission? You saw how he upset he was when the aliens nearly killed her. What would happen off Voyager if they were in a similar situation and one of their lives is in danger?"
"He didn't do anything that put Voyager at risk," Chakotay said reasonably.
"I'm extrapolating, Commander," Janeway replied irritably. She waved a hand carelessly. "It's a logical assumption that deep, personal feelings between crewmembers can be detrimental to a mission. That's why Starfleet has guidelines in place to restrict the married couples from serving on the same missions in the first place."
"That's a risk we have to take. We can do our best to make sure that Tom and B'Elanna aren't assigned to the same missions, but again, with a limited pool of people, keeping them separated wouldn't be practical. We're just going to have to trust them to do their jobs and keep their personal feelings out of the matter, regardless of the personal consequences."
"That's easier said than done," Janeway said wryly.
Chakotay ran his finger around the rim of his wine glass. "Yes, I'm aware of that. As you point out, it's a delicate balancing act."
"Exactly. I'm simply concerned about how we're going to manage it, Chakotay." Janeway leaned forward, the tips of her hair gently skimming her cheeks. In the candlelight, her eyes seemed unusually bright.
"I imagine one day at a time, one incident at a time. A blanket generalization isn't going to work in this case and you know that as well as I do."
Janeway quirked a grin. "I was hoping you'd tell me otherwise."
"As hard as it can be out here, we are covering new ground," Chakotay said, his voice dropping an octave. "Not only in terms of what we've found and the first contacts we've made, but also in crew integration and social interaction in a confined space. In many ways, Voyager is an experiment in itself and perhaps, for that reason, it wouldn't be so bad to throw away the rule book and just make it up as we go along."
"Throw away the rule book?" Janeway's hand covered Chakotay's. A light and *friendly* touch, Chakotay reminded himself. "Allow flagrant violations of Starfleet protocol?"
"Well, not on the *Bridge*," Chakotay said, "or anywhere else *while* on duty. But what does it matter what two people do in the privacy of their own quarters or -" he blanched - "on the holodeck? As long as those activities don't interfere with ship operations?"
"And if the relationship doesn't last?" Janeway asked. "What then? It's one thing if the relationship ends amicably, but it's another if there are hard feelings involved. In that case, the usual remedy would be to request a transfer to another posting. In our very unique circumstances, as you put it, that's not a possibility."
"Then we have to assume and trust that our people can handle the break-up in a mature fashion," Chakotay said quietly. He pushed his plate aside. "I think we're underestimating the crew's capacity to form lasting meaningful and emotional relationships."
"It's the 'emotional' that concerns me," Janeway said pensively. "Opening up like that leaves a person vulnerable to external pressures, and God knows, we have plenty of those here in the DQ." She leaned forward. "Every day, we make command decisions. Even crewmen on this ship have more authority than they ordinarily would have in the Alpha Quadrant simply because we don't have the luxury of time when we come face to face with the Viidians. What if, in a combat situation, a crewman makes a decision that sends the person he or she loves to their death? What happens then?" Janeway shook her head. "*That's* what I'm concerned about. Whether we can make decisions concerning the people we care about with a clear and focused mind." Janeway got up from her seat, taking her wine with her, as she headed towards the sofa. After a second of contemplation, Chakotay followed her.
"Of course, there are consequences," Chakotay said as he settled down next to her, careful to keep at least a centimeter's worth of distance between them. "I never said that there weren't, but we all know the risks when we fall in love. If we constantly evaluated the pros and cons, most people would never allow themselves to even contemplate a relationship."
"And you obviously think the positives outweigh the negatives."
"I have to say, I haven't seen Tom or B'Elanna ever look this happy before," Chakotay said. He smiled at Janeway. "And despite their recent 'adolescent indiscretions', I have no doubt that they'll be able to sort out their professional and personal obligations. It's just a matter of compartmentalization."
Janeway raised an eyebrow as she leaned towards Chakotay. "Compartmentalization? You make an affair of the heart sound so clinical, Commander."
"It's simply one approach to a difficult situation. One worth serious consideration." Chakotay said, carefully - and professionally - shifting his position on the sofa, his thigh brushing up against hers. He could feel the heat of Janeway's skin seeping between the material of their uniforms. It was, Chakotay had to admit, a very pleasant sensation and he was even more pleased to notice that Janeway didn't pull away.
"This matter requires further... study. And I think we've talked about it quite enough for one night," Janeway said silkily. Of all the things she had said this evening, this was one sentiment Chakotay heartily agreed with; he could certainly use a little less conversation and more-
"Perhaps we could discuss it some more over breakfast?" Janeway placed her hand on Chakotay's knee. Chakotay inhaled deeply as his fingers ran along the curve of her jaw line.
In the moment before their lips touched, Chakotay said softly, "I'll be happy to help you answer any questions you may have."
~ the end ~
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