THE MASHED POTATO INCIDENT

By Keaton Bridges

Star Trek Voyager and its characters belong to Paramount/CBS. I just like to play with them now and then...

As told by Lieutenant Tom Paris

B'Elanna says the Captain finally realized that resistance was futile. I still say it was the mashed potatoes. Well, actually, it was what happened when Captain Janeway found herself covered in them. Whatever the reason, everything changed that day and B'Elanna and I were lucky enough to witness it from ringside seats.

We, the crew that is, had known for years the Captain and Chakotay were in love with each other. Hell, I think we knew before they did! The sad thing was, they wouldn't allow themselves to do anything about it. There was a lot of speculation as to why. My take on it was that Captain Janeway felt so guilty for stranding us in the Delta Quadrant, she would allow nothing to get in the way of her one and only goal...to get us home. I can't imagine carrying a responsibility of that magnitude alone, yet she did it without complaint for seven years. I've never met anyone I admire as much as Kathryn Janeway, but I digress.

We've all talked a lot about that day. It was the hot topic of conversation for weeks afterwards and became known as 'The Mashed Potato Incident', but none of us know exactly how the fall happened. One minute the Captain was crossing the dining room in the mess hall, lunch tray in hand, and the next she was on her butt on the floor, wearing most of her meal.

Now, I couldn't have been any closer to her. She literally fell right by my feet, but before I could lift a finger to help her, Chakotay was on his knees beside her. It was like he appeared out of thin air! He was very concerned, his brow creased with worry as he asked her if she was all right and held her upper arms. She looked up at him, obviously stunned by the fall. A crowd had gathered and Chakotay barked at them to go back to their seats and give her some air. The Captain slowly looked down at the mess all over her but was still too dazed to move.

The next thing B'Elanna and I knew, Chakotay had taken the napkins right out of our hands and begun to carefully wipe mashed potatoes from the Captain's face and hair. Even now, remembering it makes the little hairs on the back of my neck stand up, but in a good way. Whether she was still stunned, or mesmerized by the look on his face (I tend to go with the latter), she sat very still like an obedient child under his gentle ministrations. It was one of the most tender and loving things I'd ever seen. He held her chin lightly in one hand as he worked with the other, and she couldn't seem to tear her eyes from the look on his face. It was so intense I could barely breathe. There was dead silence in the room and I'm certain we all faded into nothingness, leaving them completely alone in those incredibly touching moments. When B'Elanna slipped her hand over mine I knew she'd felt it too. Something very, very significant had unfolded right before our eyes. Perhaps for the first time, it appeared Kathry Janeway had finally realized that this man cherished her, loved her beyond life itself.

A loud noise from the kitchen startled us all and the spell was broken. I could've strangled Neelix. Immediately they became aware of the stillness in the room, every eye trained on them, and I swear Chakotay blushed. He quickly let go of her face, sat back on his heels and began to wipe his hands, avoiding her eyes. The Captain picked up the other napkin and swiped at the food on her shoulders and sleeves, all the while stealing looks at him. At first she looked embarrassed, but more for him than herself, I think. As her hands slowed and her gaze settled on him again, I saw the love fill first her eyes then her entire face. Chakotay missed it as his eyes darted around the room, and he was probably wishing himself anywhere else in the galaxy but there. Only when the Captain got up on her knees and walked on them to him did he look up in surprise. He took in the expression on her face, her smile, the unshed tears in her eyes and realization dawned. His entire body relaxed and he began to smile as her hands came up to cup his face. When she slowly leaned forward to kiss him, I damn near cried out loud. B'Elanna squeezed my hand so hard I thought sure she was going to break every bone in it.

There was a beat of silence, then all hell broke loose. There was thunderous applause as well as shouts, cheers and whistles. A lot of them mine. The kiss was rather short. It's kind of hard to pucker and smile at the same time. Her arms went around his neck, his around her waist, and when they stood her feet came up off the floor. We all stood too and clapped even louder, chasing away any doubts they might've had on how we felt about them being together. It was a beautiful thing to behold and I wouldn't trade it for all the latinum in the Alpha Quadrant.

The Captain slid to the floor and stepped back but they held tightly to each other's hands. Both laughed when they noticed the front of Chakotay's uniform smeared with food, then fell into another hug before they turned to leave. There wasn't a dry eye in the place.

Funny. Love is, when you think about it, a precious gift. For too long they had denied that gift, not only to each other, but to us. We all knew it was there, were dying for them to unwrap and enjoy it for crying out loud! In finally giving it to and accepting it from one another, they had also given that most wonderful gift to us. A gift none of us will ever forget.

Especially when we sit down to a meal that includes mashed potatoes.