I don't remember why I wrote this, exactly. I do know that my husband and I got married in August of 1997, so it's entirely possible that I simply had marriage on my mind and let those thoughts wander onto the Voyager.
"Let's see. Personnel reports reviewed, schedule changes approved, new replicator ration allotments distributed. Another weekly meeting wrapped up, wouldn't you say, Commander?"
"Just about. But there is one more thing..."
He grinned over the rim of his coffee mug. "You're going to have to bring out that formal uniform of yours again, Captain, because there's another wedding to perform."
A delighted smile spread across her face as she leaned toward him across her desk. "Wonderful news! Who is it this time?"
"Ensign Flagg and Crewman Young Bear."
"Jorno Flagg and Gloria Young Bear." She cocked her head at him, surprised. "I had no idea."
"They'd kept it a secret for a while. Some of us knew. Gloria and I go way back - our fathers were close friends and she always thought of me as a big brother. So she told me when they first started seeing each other."
"She's a good engineer."
"So is Jorno."
Janeway nodded, toying with her own coffee mug. "He's very young, but he's turning into a fine officer."
Chakotay shook his head, smiling a little. "They're all very young, Kathryn."
She rose and moved to the sofa and motioned him to follow, the formal part of their meeting over. "You've talked to them? Are they well-matched?"
"I think so. He's Starfleet to the core and she was raised by very traditional parents. But they seem to draw strength from those differences."
"I assume they want a ceremony that reflects both cultures."
He nodded. "They want us to perform it together - your Starfleet formality, my spirituality. We can work out all the details later."
"I look forward to that."
He smiled. "So do I. More coffee?"
"Thanks, I'm fine."
"Are you sure? I'm buying this week, remember?"
"Well in that case..."
He busied himself at the replicator while she gazed out at the stars, lost in thought. "How many weddings is that in the last few months, Chakotay? Two? Three?"
"This makes four, actually." He handed her a mug of fresh coffee and seated himself beside her. "Four in the last 180 days."
"That's quite a few."
"Well, it is spring back at the Academy. Maybe our young crew are beginning to feel their oats."
"But Jorno and Gloria make ten married couples on a ship with fewer than 150 crewmen. Doesn't that strike you as an unusually high number for a crew this small?"
"These are unusually odd circumstances in which we find ourselves."
She turned away from the stars to look directly at him. "What are you getting at?"
"As you've pointed out many times, we're a long way from home. It's natural that people will...what was your phrase? 'Begin to pair off.'"
"I had no idea it would be this many - or this soon."
"Are you saying that you did?"
"I had an idea."
He leaned back and took a long sip of coffee, staring out at the stars just above her left shoulder. She watched him compose his features into a thoughtful pattern she knew very well, the one that usually preceded an observation or revelation that she hadn't even considered.
Finally he looked back at her, eyes intent upon her even though his face was calm. "We live with the specter of death every day, Kathryn. Every encounter with an alien race could be our last. Every shuttle we send out to gather supplies runs the risk of never returning."
"That's no different from any other deep-space mission, Chakotay."
"Isn't it? If we were in the Alpha Quadrant and someone died, the surviving partner could go home and be comforted by his or her family. He or she could eventually come to terms with the loss and move on. But out here... We are all we have. We have to turn to each other for the support our families would normally give."
"Which is why I'm surprised so many of our crew have chosen to take this step, to enter into relationships that could end violently tomorrow."
He leaned forward, violating her space a little, but she did not shrink away from him. "It's the possibility of a violent end that makes us cling to each other so tightly, Kathryn. We...our crew...have chosen to love well now so that they will have no regrets later, if that violent end should come suddenly."
"That's a dangerous choice."
"It's the only choice we have."
"Still..." She rose and paced away from him a few steps, withdrawing from his steady gaze. "It's a risky prospect. Not only because death may be lurking around the next corner, but because we're so isolated out here. What if it doesn't work out? What if Jorno and Gloria's marriage falls apart? There is nowhere else for them to go, no other ship to accept their transfer. They both have to remain here if they have any hope whatsoever of getting home."
"I'm confident that every member of this crew is mature enough to realize that we depend on each other for survival," he said with conviction. "There's no room for petty jealousies and hurt feelings when so many lives are at stake. They may be young, but they're not naive. Not anymore."
She smiled, a little sadly. "They grew up fast."
"They had to."
"You're right, of course." She turned back to him abruptly, her head cocked to one side. "Chakotay, what do you think would have happened if we had instituted the fraternization policy you suggested three years ago?"
He shrugged and smiled a little. "I think there would have been a lot more sneaking around the corridors than there is now."
She laughed quietly, lowering herself to perch on the edge of the sofa beside him. "You're probably right. They would have resented us for intruding on their personal lives." She gave him a sidelong glance. "Resented you, mostly, since it was your idea."
He shook his head ruefully. "I was hoping you'd forgotten that."
"What were you thinking when you suggested it?"
"I was thinking the same thing you are now, that if someone's relationship started to go sour, we could have a difficult situation on our hands." He tugged at his ear and smiled ruefully. "I was also thinking of the schedule change requests I'd get if two people stopped seeing each other and decided they couldn't work together anymore."
"I hadn't thought of that," she said. "Has that ever happened?"
"Oh, once or twice." He leaned back, balancing his coffee on his thigh. "Early in our journey I had a few schedule changes requested due to personality conflicts. In all but one case I sat down with the crewmen and helped them work it out without having to change the schedule at all."
"What about the other case?"
He grinned at her. "Well, Gloria and Jorno seem to be doing just fine now..."
She smiled and shook her head. "Funny the way that works out sometimes."
He nodded. "I changed the schedule so that they didn't have to work together anymore, and within two weeks they'd each come to me separately and asked me to change it back."
She sipped at her coffee, lost in the passing stars. "I'm glad Starfleet doesn't try to regulate the personal lives of its personnel."
"I agree. Sometimes I think back to the old military codes of conduct 'Fleet's regulations are based on." He shook his head. "Some of the rules were amazing - especially the fraternization rules."
"I remember studying early military history at the Academy. There seemed to be several codes of conduct working at once. Separate standards for men and women, officers and enlisted personnel, wartime and peacetime."
He nodded. "It all reflected the larger society's fluctuating perception of sexual behavior. Different paradigms for boys and girls, different patterns of accepted sexual initiation depending on gender, class, education... How could the military have hoped to regulate behavior on those terms?"
"Exactly. The military of a few hundred years ago was dedicated to recruiting aggressive young men and turning them into even more aggressive young men by giving them a channel for their aggression, and then patting them on the back for being so strong. Of course that perceived encouragement of aggressive behavior was going to spill into their personal lives."
He nodded. "And at that time women were becoming a more visible segment of the military population. I can see why the commanders felt something had to be done. Especially since the perception that women were fair game to be preyed upon was still prevalent both in the military and in the larger society."
"So they tried to stop it." She shook her head in disbelief. "Chakotay, did you know that a few hundred years ago, well after World War II, there was a movement in the commanding ranks of the U.S. Marines that wanted to recruit only single men and women, and to forbid them from marrying while they served?"
"I don't doubt it. It was a difficult time. Standards of behavior were changing. More types of relationships were becoming accepted, perceptions of sexuality were constantly being reviewed and modified. Of course the old guard was going to feel pressured to react to it somehow."
"Still, some of those regulations were ridiculous. They demanded almost superhuman behavior of their personnel."
"Inhuman," he corrected. "They were unrealistic."
"And then there was the war."
"And then there was the war," he echoed. "All the rules suddenly changed."
"It was a dark time. Everything was tinged with violence." She shuddered. "Even sex. Even love."
"Yes." He looked up at her intently. "But what emerged was a revolution, the sudden realization that we've got to hang on to what we have, because every life is unique, every emotion is precious and should be cherished."
"Every emotion..." she mused. "Chakotay, do you think we could have enforced a fraternization policy out here?"
"No," he stated flatly. "It would have been unrealistic to try."
"Do you ever think we should have?"
"So far I haven't. But sometimes I worry..."
He shook his head and looked away suddenly, unwilling or unable to continue for the moment. "I worry... that maybe someday Jorno will have to make a decision in engineering that puts Gloria's life in danger. Will he be able to do it?"
"He's a good officer. He knows the risks. They both do."
"I know. And he'd do it, because he knows he has to. I suppose in a way I envy him."
He smiled, a little sadly. "Because he's found someone who he's willing to risk everything for. And she's willing to take the same risk for him. That's a rare and wonderful thing."
"They're very brave."
"Yes, they are."
She was silent for a long moment, turning his words over and over in her mind. Amazing to think that, so impossibly far from their familiar lives in the Alpha Quadrant, so many people seemed to have found such profound peace in each other. Rare and wonderful indeed.
She leaned back on the sofa beside him, her shoulder brushing his upper arm. "Do you think all of those people would be married to each other if we had gotten back to the Alpha Quadrant three years ago?" she asked quietly. "Or do you think they've come together simply because there are so few other options out here?"
He was silent for such a long time that she was afraid he hadn't heard. She looked up at him and began to repeat her question but caught him staring down into his coffee cup, his lips twisted into a half-grimace, the muscles at the back of his jaw twitching.
He stared down at her for a long moment before responding. "Things happen for a reason, Kathryn. Maybe those ten couples were meant to be together all along. Maybe it took the unlikely events of the Maquis insurgence, the Voyager's mission and the Caretaker's array to bring them together."
"You're suggesting that people are fated to be together?"
"Because I find that unlikely in the extreme. I believe in free will."
He let out a long breath, almost a sigh. "I believe circumstances bring people together for a reason. But I also believe that staying together is an exercise of free will. Sheer will, usually."
"That's an interesting idea." She smiled suddenly. "I've never heard a hopeless romantic justify himself in quite that way before."
He laughed out loud, the tension melting from his face. "Kathryn, I am the furthest thing from a hopeless romantic."
She smiled back at him. "No, Chakotay. I am the furthest thing from a hopeless romantic. You, on the other hand, are beyond help."
He shook his head, still smiling. "I guess I'm going to have to take that as a compliment, then. Thank you."
She set her coffee cup aside and folded her legs under her, leaning her chin in her hand. "Marriage. It seems a little redundant on this ship where there are no secrets. Why have so many chosen to go through with the ceremony, I wonder?"
He shrugged. "It's a public affirmation of a very private vow. There's something ancient about it. Something sacred."
She nodded. "I think I can understand that. It's one of the few truly permanent things we have out here - the rituals we continue to perform, the milestones we continue to celebrate, even so far from the places most familiar to us. Those rituals make us a community. They make us family."
He looked up at her sharply and smiled. "Kathryn, three years ago I would never have imagined you'd say anything like that. I'm glad to hear it now."
She smiled back at him. "Maybe I've grown up too, Chakotay."