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The Heart of the Matter
Captain Janeway's coffee addiction proves to be her salvation...
Follows canon. Set one month after Voyager's surprise return home. The debriefings concluded yesterday and tonight is the final get together before everyone begins their compulsory year long leave. Tomorrow morning they will all go their separate ways but for one final night she is still their Captain.
Captain Kathryn Janeway slugged back her fourth Irish Coffee of the evening as she psyched herself up to give the expected speech to wrap things up. In attendance tonight, along with her senior staff, were the six Admirals involved in their collective debriefings and the subsequent judgment of their service records. There had been promotions, demotions, commendations and official reprimands across the board. A real mixed bag, as had been their adventures in the Delta Quadrant. She had wanted any and all criticisms attributed to her, and to bear any punishments meted out alone, but that was not the Starfleet way. Although many senior posts had been field commissions conferred on the others by herself, Starfleet had insisted that if they were to stand, then the ranking officers had to accept the responsibilities of their office and therefore also the retribution when they failed to live up to them. She would be held accountable solely for herself and her own actions and decisions : a concept that felt utterly alien to her and left a bad taste in the mouth.
Face it Kathryn - she inwardly admonished herself - they are all highly intelligent, capable and autonomous individuals. Not only that but they are Starfleet Officers. After all they had endured: Starfleet's best. Of that she had no doubt whatsoever.
She was vaguely aware of Commander Tuvok's monologue. Listing her achievements; blah blah blah... her senior staff were all sitting politely paying attention and applauding quietly at the appropriate moments when the carefully choreographed pauses occurred in his speech. She knew that it would be Commander Chakotay's turn to speak next.
No doubt he had prepared a similar crock of bullshit - as had she!
This evening was supposed to be about them. Her team. Her friends. But what were they doing? Putting on a show for the attendant Admirals. Playing their parts as good little officers should. To hell with this!
She waived the waiter over and indicated for a re-fill of her coffee pot. As soon as it arrived she surreptitiously added a slug of whiskey from her hip flask. No one would notice as it was as black as she always took it, no cream to give the game away. It may be her fifth of the evening but she felt stone cold sober. Her head was clearer than it had been in many a year. If she was ever going to find the guts to do this it was now or forever hold her tongue. The minute Tuvok sat down she would have her say. Looking around the table ...seeing Seven laying claim to...
Nothing of any importance had been said so far this evening. That was about to change. She was many things that she did not feel particularly proud of but she had only ever been a coward in one regard and she was damned if she would give up without a fight.
As Tuvok finished with a toast to her and the other's raised their glasses she stood. "Sorry to pre-empt your speech Commander Chakotay but perhaps you would humour me this one last time?"
Chakotay smiled and demurred. Seven just looked smug and the others regarded her with a mixture of mild curiosity and amused relief that their Captain seemed to be back on form. No doubt they had noticed her unusual reticence and low mood earlier in the evening. Inevitably, by the time she was finished their high opinions of her would be forever tainted but she didn't give a damn. All that mattered was that he know. He understand.
"Thank you all so much for your kind words and for those in a similar vein that I have no doubt you were about to recite Chakotay. I have here a similar speech of my own that I had intended to close the evening with. You'll be glad to hear that it is about to be recycled as something far more useful such as toilet paper."
She felt the mood in the room shift. There was a sudden embarrassed silence amongst those gathered and she saw Chakotay glancing at her coffee mug with a worried look in his eyes.
"Yes, Commander you are correct in your assumption. Irish Coffee it was. I am Irish after all. However - sadly - I am still stone cold sober. Any impending nausea has now been assuaged by preventing either you or I spouting any further bullshit this evening. "
"Captain, perhaps you would like a little fresh air on the balcony? We can re-convene in half an hour or so." Chakotay had stood and extended his arm to her.
Damn him! Trying to rescue her yet again. No doubt he thought she was about to make a fool of herself and perhaps risk that promotion she had just been awarded. Well, for once he was absolutely right and she didn't give a damn.
"Thank you but no thanks. My head is perfectly clear. Clearer than it's been in a very long while. And I have no intention of us all still being here in half an hour. What `I have to say will only take a few moments. Then the ball is firmly in your court."
Seven pulled Chakotay back down and B'Elanna exchanged a worried glance with Tom. Poor Harry just looked perplexed and Tuvok looked as stoic as ever: giving nothing away with his eyes.
"Dear comrades, over the last seven years we have grown from enemies to colleagues to friends. Out there we did what we had to in order to survive. We made sacrifices, all of us, for the common good. Ultimately the buck stopped with me. I had to make the final decision in so many scenarios. I always had to take responsibility for the lives of everyone on Voyager. Twenty four hours a day, three hundred and sixty five days a year for seven and a half long years. Although you all worked closely with me over that time there is only one person who saw the whole picture. Who sat for many a long night in my Ready Room with me, thrashing out a solution to the crisis of the day."
Catching her breath for just long enough to swallow the last of her fortification she glanced around then set her eyes firmly on Chakotay once again.
"Sitting by my side, and vice versa, at ungodly hours in sickbay when one or other of us had had yet another close call with the grim reaper. Who kept me going for five long months- stranded planet side - whilst Voyager continued her journey home under the command of Mr. Tuvok. Who saved me on multiple occasions from the "baddie of the day" be they Hirogen; Borg; Species 8472; Kazon; Vidian; Quarran; Devore...you name them. But the most important enemy he saved me from every time? Myself. And you know what folks. It's high time I returned the favour and saved the Commander from himself."
At this point she looked at each of them in turn, finally fixing her gaze on Chakotay. As she walked around the table towards him - sensing that something momentous was about to happen - he stood to face her. "Captain?...Kathryn?"
She pulled herself to her full height and took a mental deep breath. Here goes Kathryn she thought as she steadied her voice. "It won't work Chakotay. Not with Seven. Not with anyone but me. You and I both know that. We have been through a unique experience that no one else in this Quadrant has. It has shaped who we are. Who we have become. No one else with ever fully understand either of us. How could they? We have only two choices Chakotay. Either we build a life together or we both stay alone for the remainder of our days. Which is it to be?"
Chakotay was speechless. She was right. He knew it. Yet she was speaking as the Captain giving him a logical argument for making good on their unspoken promise to one another. All he was hearing was more bullshit! Where was Kathryn in all this and what did she feel ?
"Well Captain, no doubt you are right. No one will ever fully understand us. Let's face it, we don't fully understand ourselves. I certainly don't understand you any more. Perhaps we will end up alone. Who knows. All I know is that there are more important things than just shared knowledge and understanding. There is empathy...and love."
Shit! This was not going well. Why was he making this so hard for her? What did he want her to say? Did he really want her to pour out her heart here : in front of everyone? Well, if that's what it took...
"You want me to spell it out Chakotay? You want me to admit that I was attracted to you from the first moment we met? That we fell in love on New Earth and then had to suppress Kathryn and Chakotay for over five long years as we resumed our respective roles on Voyager? Alright. Yes, ladies `& gentlemen, it's all true. All that tension between the command team and subsequent crap decision making after we encountered Riley Fraser's collective; Kellin and her stowaway; Inspector Kashyk of the Devore Imperium; our sojourn on Quarra. I could go on. Conflict and tension arising from sexual jealousy. You see, it was pergatory for both of us and sometimes we each succumbed to temptation and invoked the wrath of the other. Very unprofessional for a Captain and First Officer but completely understandable for two long term lovers forced apart by circumstances outside their control. You want me to admit that I've been in love with you for years : then I hereby admit it. As I said before, after seven long years of having to make all the final calls this time I'm deferring to you. What does the future hold for us?"
Had she gone too far? Looking around at the shocked faces she knew she had. Well, I'm glad. I'm relieved. I'm tired of hiding and I'm tired of this never ending charade. Now it's out of my hands...the seconds seemed to drag by as time ground to a halt. She forced herself to look only into Chakotay's eyes and await his decision...
Finally! Finally she had admitted it openly. Said the words he had been longing to hear but had long since resigned himself to the fact that he now never would. Irish coffee or not, her eyes were clear and she knew what she was doing. He saw the resolve in her face now. Only the throbbing vein in the right side of her neck gave away to him the extent of the tension she was feeling. Only he knew that she was very unsure which way he would jump. Would he admit the truth here and now or would he choose Seven after all, as he had in their original timeline? Standing here now, with Kathryn, he could not comprehend how he could have married Seven in any timeline. Yet alone in this one. Since the day he had set eyes on her there had been only one true destiny for him. He had told her as much on New Earth and that held as true now as then. Perhaps more so in the light of all they had endured.
"Like I just said Kathryn. I choose love." And with that he took her in his arms and kissed her for the first time since they had left New Earth behind.