Summary: A former Voyager crewmember tells it like it was.
Characters: Neelix, Janeway, Chakotay
Disclaimer: All Paramount's, all the time.
To Brax, the son of my heart,
In keeping with the tradition of our people, on the eve of your Cadix celebration, I entrust you with this written record of the greatest love story I have ever known.
Now, Brax, usually at this point I might recount the legend of Prince Ijax and the enchanted maiden of Plexin, or the tragic tale of Tixal and Nexala; or I might even tell you the story of how my own parents met and built their life together. And these are, indeed, noble stories, and worthy examples of love and passion. But perhaps the noblest and most passionate love story of all was the one I had the privilege to witness while serving aboard the starship Voyager.
You already know how I became part of Voyager's crew, how I lived with those brave and adventurous souls for seven years, and why I chose to leave. I've told you of our fearsome battles with the Kazon, the Vidiians and the Borg, and I've told you of the wondrous things we encountered in our travels - mysterious nebulae, planets of incredible beauty, and alien creatures of power and magnificence. And I've told you about the people of Voyager, who had such natural curiosity and generosity of spirit; none more so than its Captain and first officer.
Selflessness isn't a concept I was familiar with for most of my adult life, Brax. I was mostly alone, scratching and scavenging for a living. When you're used to relying only on yourself, you don't think about the needs of others. So it took me a little while to fit in on Voyager, but in time I became part of that great family.
I remember the day I began to understand, a few weeks into our journey. We were studying a nebula from the inside, but the nebula turned out to be a great creature which lived in open space. We'd inadvertently wounded it, and Captain Janeway was determined to repair the damage. Well, I was furious. I had Kes to take care of, you see, and all my instincts told me to take my little ship and get us both out of danger. But the Captain refused. She told me that I'd made a commitment to this crew, that we had to rely on each other. That day I began to realise that the commitment worked both ways; that I could rely on people too. Trust is a wondrous and terrifying thing, Brax. It's the hardest thing in the world to let down your guard and put your faith in another person, but it can bring the most tremendous rewards.
Trust was the cornerstone of life on Voyager, from the day Captain Janeway invited Chakotay's group of rebels to join the Starfleet crew so they could work together to reach their home. It was trust that made the Captain and Chakotay more than a command team. They became the best of friends, and in time, they became something more.
The ship was rife with gossip and rumour, of course. When you live with the same hundred and fifity people day in, day out for years on end, speculation is inevitable. And of course the lower decks crew was curious about the Captain and the Commander. Two attractive people thrown together by circumstance, putting aside their political enmity to reach a common goal. It was only natural that people would start wondering if the pair of them ever moved from briefings to de-briefings.
I don't know exactly when it happened. Perhaps when they were stranded on the quarantine planet, or after the Captain almost died on an away mission, or perhaps it happened much later in the journey. All I know is that they were deeply and irrevocably in love, and that love grew stronger with every trial of fire they had to endure.
And there were plenty of trials. The Captain made an alliance with the Borg against a species from another dimension, and the Commander was against it from the start. He said it put Voyager in terrible danger, that the Borg couldn't be trusted; the Captain said there was no other way through Borg space. We came through it; you know the end of that story. But that was the first real division between them, and it took them some time to ease back into their old friendship. And then we encountered the Equinox, and that was a desperate time. The Captain was ... well, let's just say she wasn't herself. It took longer to rebuild their friendship after that incident. But rebuild it they did, and I believe it was a turning point for them. I think they realised that if they could come through that, they'd make it through anything ... as long as they had each other.
In the sixth year of our journey we achieved two-way communication with Starfleet Headquarters. The crew was full of new optimism, and none more so than the command team; or so I thought, until I was the accidental witness to a conversation between them. I was inventorying the food stores late one night when the Captain and Chakotay came into the mess hall. Hearing voices, I started out to see if they wanted anything. But as I rounded the corner I saw the pair of them standing by the viewport, and instinct stopped me from moving any closer. They were face to face, and I could hear that they were talking, though I couldn't make out the words. As I watched, Chakotay raised his hand to touch the Captain's face and she smiled and covered his hand with her own. They stood there gazing at each other and there was so much tenderness between them that I was ashamed of my unintentional intrusion and began to back away. And then the Captain stopped smiling and spoke, and I heard her clearly.
"Chakotay ... questions are being asked about us. What are we going to do?"
And he raised her chin to look her in the eye and said: "Kathryn, I love you, and no Starfleet protocol or deskbound admiral is ever going to change that. We'll get through this together. We always do." And then he kissed her.
Well, Brax, I've been accused of nosiness in the past, but even I know when a moment is too private and too precious to share. I backed away as quietly as I could, and I've never told a soul of what I witnessed, until today. I thought a lot about it, of course. When I joined Voyager I studied Starfleet regulations and protocols, and I was aware that romantic relationships between a captain and a crewmember aren't exactly sanctioned by Starfleet. And I guessed the Captain was concerned that Starfleet wouldn't look kindly on her involvement with Chakotay. After all, he was a terrorist, and she'd been sent to capture him; I know she was angling for full pardons for all the former Maquis, and if Starfleet thought the Captain's judgment had been compromised it mightn't go well for our crew. But to my mind, if Starfleet were ever to question Captain Janeway's loyalty to the Federation, they'd be a company of fools. She made it clear from the start that Voyager would get home and that we would be a Starfleet crew, and if that meant sacrificing her personal happiness, so be it. Commander Chakotay must have found it difficult, at times, to abide by Starfleet regulations. But he gave the Captain his support from the very first day, and though being unable to love her openly must have caused him pain, he, too, did it for our family.
Brax, my son, I have a new family now: you, and Dexa, and the rest of our community. But I'll never forget the lessons I learned from my family on Voyager. Selflessness can bring terrible hardships, but also endless rewards; trust can open you to betrayal, but without it you can never know the joy of loving someone. And loving someone is the greatest treasure of all.
The Captain and the Commander still didn't have an easy time of it when they got back to Earth. But they did send me some holo-images from their wedding in the last communications linkup with the Alpha quadrant.
Never make the mistake of thinking love will be easy. Just as the Captain and Chakotay went through some bad times, so have lovers throughout history, and so will you. It's what you learn from the bad times, and what you can teach each other, that can bring the greatest returns.
Love isn't perfect, Brax; it's something more than perfect. The highest hope I have is that as you grow into a man, you'll be lucky enough - and wise enough - to discover love for yourself. Your mother and I will be here to guide you as you celebrate Cadix and enter adulthood, but the challenges and achievements of your life will be yours to someday share with somebody special.
With all my love,
Your father, Neelix