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She's Always a Woman

Posted on Thu Nov 15th, 2018 @ 11:22am by Lieutenant Commander Jael Steiger & Commander Alexia Hunter-Nolan

Mission: Spoilt Settlers
Location: Jael's Quarters
Timeline: 1 Day after 'The Bigger They Are, the Harder They Fall'

It had been almost 24 hours since the last colonist had been taking into custody without incident. Jael had given Alexia the notification that the Centaurus had been officially secured and every last one of the criminals placed inside a holding cell for transport to the nearest starbase. As for her own officers, they seemed to have mostly come out of this event unscathed. With the odds stacked against them after getting caught off guard, her officers stood up and fought back with all their might.

Jael was pleasantly surprised.

After reading Alexia’s accounts of what happened inside of her ready room, Jael elected to have a more informal personal debriefing with the Commander. Alexia had hosted her for dinner previously, so it was her turn to play hostess for her. It had been a traumatic few months for her, being thrown into the fire after spending an inhumane amount of time in the basements of Starfleet Headquarters, so Jael gave her a day to take everything in, sort everything out, before she decided to meet with her.

Jael had also been through a bit of an experience herself. Her world had been flipped upside down once more, exposing herself to new tastes, new smells, or a life she never believed she would be able to live in. She was married to her most trusted partner, her best friend, and most importantly she had fallen in love. She had opened her cold dark heart and let in the warmth given off by those around her. She even surprised The Russian, who always jokingly played the song ‘Cold Hard Bitch’ by Jet whenever she walked into the office of the Intelligence Department. While she maintained her always essential cool exterior and hardened perspective, which served her rather well and often kept her alive, inside she was beginning to understand that there really was good all around her. And she deserved to be a part of it.

As she gently caressed the black and white keys of her keyboard, playing, ‘She’s Always a Woman’ by the late 20th Century pianist Billy Joel, she began to feel at ease for the first time in over a month. There was much more work ahead of her to tie off the loose ends from the last events, but the good guys had triumphed over evil and Intelligence was going to have a field day with the investigation into Phillipe’s Federation connections.

It had been an extremely long twenty-four hours for Alexia, or so it felt anyway. After being checked out by medical, getting her various injuries treated, she'd come back to her quarters to be flying hugged by Abi. It was at this exact moment that her entire resolve to remain stoic broke down. She collapsed onto the floor in a heap with Abi, crying as she embraced her tightly. Abi had rocked her soothingly and reassuringly, without even knowing the ordeal she'd gone through. Finally leading Alexia over to the sofa, letting her compose herself, she'd told Abi the whole ordeal on the bridge, what Phillipe had tried to do in the ready-room, and the revelations during her moment of clarity just before she nearly vaporised herself.

There had been a long afternoon of talking between the two women, something that Alexia had genuinely needed to do. She was then able to make her full report on the events in her log, and in a separate report to Starfleet. This second report she had copied to Jael, so that she could write her own account of events to send to command. It also helped Jael to understand what she'd endured. The fact that she was still alive, uninjured for the most part, and still in command of the Centaurus, was a testament to the skill and dedication of the crew. With the command codes now released, and normal ship operations back under way, they were returning to Starbase One to return their kind gift.

Tonight was set to be a dinner date between just Captain and First Officer - no spouses. Theoretically, it had been set to allow the two of them to catch up on each other's stories, and discuss other ship matters. Alexia, having understood Jael a bit better now, realised that Jael likely wanted to provide some 'therapy' to her troubled captain. The idea of this was not abhorrent to Alexia as much as it would've been in the beginning of their tenure. She found she valued Jael's views and often her insights helped her become a better person as a result. Therefore, she was a lot less defensive about the way Jael interacted with her.

Arriving at Jael's quarters dressed in snug fitting blue jeans and a black and white striped top, she tapped the chime and after being given permission to enter, she walked in and smiled at her first officer. "Well, good evening Jael." She said, using her name in this informal setting.

Jael returned the warmth with a small grin as she stood up from her keyboard. "Good evening, Alexia," she still sometimes had to force out the informal greeting. "There is still a bit of time before the food is ready. Would you like something to drink to go along with our story-telling? A bottle of wine for yourself, perhaps?" Her eyes crinkled a bit at her attempt to ease her Commander's nerves.

Alexia chuckled at her first officer. "I know I've had a tough week, but I don't think I need an entire bottle of wine for myself. Although that does seem to be a thing for us, doesn't it? Giving each other bottles of wine. I will however take a glass of Rose though." She grinned as the door closed behind her, moving into the seating area. "You cooking the food yourself?"

"Before my mother passed she always made sure that I was a well-rounded child." Jael gestured for Alexia to sit at the kitchen table where the wine was already set up. "'Wissenschaftsgehirn, künstlerisches Herz,' my father would always say." She paused, her eyes lightening into the translucent green shade she was often known for. "That means, 'Science brain, artistic heart.'" It was very rare for Jael to discuss her childhood, even with Dutch. However, her entire life was based on what had occurred during her younger times. It would help Alexia continue to understand her and where she came from. "So, I learned to cook and play the piano and also learned all about the human brain and psychology." She finished pouring the wine into the glasses and handed one to Alexia, raising in a toast to everything they had accomplished since they first met. "Broscht!"

"Cheers." She replied, and accepted the toast before taking a sip of the beverage. "Sounds to me like your parents wanted you to grow up to be a well rounded lady." She said, moving to take a seat at the table. "Dutch is a very lucky guy to have managed to convince you to marry him." She sighed and caressed the shape of the wine glass. "You're lucky to have him too, he really compliments you, you know. Having someone special in your life is important, means you don't have to struggle through the trials of this life alone. I don't think I would be here now if it wasn't for Abi." Alexia looked up and realised her eyes were watering, and moved a hand to wipe them. "I know I've only been with her a few months, but it feels like forever. Its far too soon to marry her, but I feel like I want to. Probably the trauma talking, I'm sure you'll tell me."

Jael nodded as she took her seat across from Alexia. "Yes, but not in the negative way you believe it is. This is the first time you have been through a major event, yes?"

Alexia took another sip of wine. "It's not my first rodeo, but it is the first time going through something that traumatic and stressful - yes. I've been on a ship that's been under attack before, but that was different. More remote."

"After facing an event where you do not know where you were questioning whether you will live to see the next moment, a person begins to question their lives. A near-death experience sparks a new perspective on what matters to a person." Jael paused, taking a quick drink from her wine glass. She had the same exact moment with Dutch but didn't want to bring it up. This was Alexia's time. "In this case, you have realized how much you truly care about Abi and you do not want to waste your time on things that do not make you happy. I have seen you and Abi together. It is very..." she paused, attempting to search for the right word, "sweet."

Alexia scoffed into her wine when Jael said the word 'sweet'. It wasn't the observation so much as the person saying it. "I didn't know you knew how to say that word." She teased. "You're usually so deadpan and serious, and seeing you say that with your neutral expression... somehow that was amusing." She sighed. "But you're right, whilst I was standing there, with a phaser to my head, all I could think about was how much I loved Abi, and how I wanted to see her one last time. I had so much clarity in that moment, as if nothing else mattered. I was ready to die Jael, I'd resigned myself to death. Now that that's past, I just can't seem to take anything seriously anymore. All I care about is being with Abi. Nothing else matters to me."

Jael was concerned about the last statement. Traumatic experiences were known to open eyes but also shake around some heads. "You were willing to die for your ship as well, Alexia. That shows your dedication to Starfleet. Do you feel split between your relationship with the Centaurus and your relationship with Abi?"

Alexia shook her head. "No, I'm proud of my ship and my crew, and I'm happy with my command. Abi is my private life, and she is equally as important to me as my ship." She said. "Its just that right now, I find it hard to care about my mundane duties at the moment. It just seems so trivial after staring down death. I'm far more aware of my mortality now than I was before. Makes me believe that each moment I have is precious."

"Because it is, Alexia. In a moment your whole world can change. One shot of a firearm can push you into chaos." Jael was all too familiar with that statement. "You acted admirably. So did the crew. I do not believe you needed my help at all. If Dutch and I had not shown up, I do not believe the outcome would be vastly different than what it was." She gave Alexia a grin. "The Kobayashi Maru does not do real life justice, Alexia."

"Well, I could've either been vaporised, then the ship would've been locked out indefinitely, or I would've been eaten, digested, and replaced." She shuddered at that. "If you hadn't come along when you did, I most certainly would've died one way or another. Don't underestimate your importance to our victory."

Jael looked at her half-empty glass of wine. Or half-full. It was looking half-full tonight. "I could not have done it without, I guess you could call him this, Dutch's best friend. He and his people gave us the advantage."

"Yes, that Russian fella." Alexia smirked. "He's an odd chap. Gave me a hug. Still, I can't help but be grateful to him and his people, even if he is completely insane."

Jael nodded in agreement. "Yes, he is rather... eccentric. One of the best Intelligence agents in the Federation. Also one of the most generous. He would give you the skin off of his back if you needed it. All of those people who fought with us were former Starfleet officers who had a difficult time adjusting to life outside of the military. He gave them a home and created an environment where they feet safe and comfortable. He makes them feel wanted and needed again. It is rather extraordinary."

"Sort of like us in a way." Alexia said, giving her a lop-sided smile. "Only we're giving people that chance inside the service."

Jael took another drink. "They were not as fortunate as we were to be given this opportunity." She paused again, realizing they had slightly gone off topic. "They are only a few day's journey from Starbase 1. If I give you the coordinates would you be willing to let us offer them transport?"

"I think its the least we could do." Alexia replied. "Plus, I'm not sure how favourable Starfleet is going to look if we turn up carrying them. It's only a day off our route, so not a big deal." She smiled.

Jael gave Alexia a nod. "I am glad we agree on the discretion, Alexia." She was used to working around the books and having things 'off the record.' Her whole career was 'off the record.' "While they deserve more recognition, unfortunately Starfleet would not be in favor of admitting they were wrong about certain decisions they have made about these people in the past. It is bad enough Intelligence will be investigating Monsieur Deubratonè's Federation connections. They prefer to have only one mess at a time. It is much easier to push under the rug."

"I imagine they're going to want to keep the colonist incident classified, to avoid the embarrassment that a Federation starship was almost taken over by people they vetted and insisted we transport." Alexia replied. "I've already got a meeting scheduled with some brass over my report, no doubt I'm going to get a grilling over it."

"As someone who is very familiar with that, please allow me to give you some advice." Jael finished off her glass and immediately poured herself another and topped off Alexia's own glass. "You must pick and choose your battles, Alexia. Some battles are worth fighting for. Some battles are not. This battle is not worth your career. Monsieur Deubratonè will get his justice in due time. It may not be traditional or what you have been taught in school, but it will be justice. And it will be swift."

"Oh, I have no doubt of that." Alexia grinned. "I'll just stand there and take my licks. I'm not going to the mat over someone else's fuck-up. This was a wholesale screw-up, that we somehow fixed. I'm sure the blame will be put on us, and to be honest, it'll probably be easier that way. We are the screw ups after all, what would we know?"

Jael shook her head. "Because they were the ones to have pushed the colonists onto the ship, they are more likely to ignore the incident than shift blame. But, no matter," she raised her glass again. "We have survived and that is the only thing that matters. We are not in this for the glory or the medals. Medals only clutter up our rooms." The timer dinged behind Jael, causing her to stand up and finish up the traditional Swiss meal of veal, mushrooms, and onions in a cream wine sauce over pasta. After a few minutes, she came back with two steaming hot plates, placing one in front of Alexia and one in her serving area. "I picked up the ingredients at a small market while Dutch was working. This is called 'Zurchergeschnetzeltes," the word flowed effortlessly off her tongue, "but do not worry, it is easier to eat than it is to pronounce. Please," she gestured towards Alexia's plate.

Alexia picked up her fork and took a portion of the meal onto it, and put it in her mouth. The flavours were exquisite and melted in her mouth. "Ohh... this is good Jael... very good. I might have to kill off Dutch and marry you myself." She joked and took another mouthful.

Jael grinned as she swallowed her own bite of food. "Much easier said than done, Alexia. Never underestimate the stubbornness of Dutch." She paused, giving Alexia a bit of time to breath and enjoy the food. She looked over Alexia with a slightly raised eyebrow. They had been having a solid conversation but the question that had been stirring in her mind wouldn't let Jael be. The topic had to be brought up, especially since this was a somewhat informal debrief. "Alexia, may I ask what exactly happened between Ensign Rathburn and Monsieur Deubratonè?" She already knew the answer but she needed Alexia's confirmation before she could move forward with processing the Ensign's actions and going from there.

Alexia finished her mouthful of food and put her fork down, turned to look at Jael. "As it turns out, Miss Rathburn engaged in a physical relationship with Deubratone about a week and a half ago." Alexia explained. "As far as she was concerned, it was innocent and private. Her intentions were that if she pleased him, he'd be less of a miserable bastard towards everyone else. In her defence, he did calm down a lot around that time, we just never worked out why. He would sneak into her room after she returned from duty, since she was confined to quarters, and spend the night with her, and then sneak out after she'd gone back on duty. She knew what she was doing was against your guidance, but she did believe that she was helping the ship. When it counted though, she didn't side with him, and she feels utterly betrayed and used."

Jael looked over Alexia, tilting her head to the side in the process. Keeping her voice calm and neutral, her grin dropped slightly into a firm neutral line. She was afraid this was going to happen. Alexia was going to protect Bree against the Big Bad Jael. “Good intentions or not, Alexia, Ensign Rathburn violated the punishment you gave her by inviting a guest over. She violated my instructions to not engage with the colonists, especially with Monsieur Deubratonè unless it was absolutely vital to the running of this ship. Now, I did not make that request just because I wanted to make her life miserable. With how that man behaved towards me I knew he would take advantage of someone in this way. I understand primal urges, Alexia. Just ask Dutch. But that is no excuse for what she has done. I am not condoning her desire to have sex with a man. I am condoning her outright disregard for orders that were made to protect her from someone like him and from getting herself into a situation like this. Do not make excuses for her, Alexia. She knew what she was doing. You both were at the briefing. There is no use trying to get me to ‘understand.’ I understand orders and I understand following orders.”

She paused, placing her fork down gently next to her plate. "Alexia, a misogynist despises women and finds them utterly beneath the pedestal of men. What did Ensign Rathburn expect when she became sexually involved with the biggest one I have ever dealt with in my career?"

"I merely attempt to understand a balanced approach to the situation. I neither condemn or defend." She said, evenly in response. "You need to understand both points of view. Yes, from our perspective, she disobeyed clear guidance on how to approach these people. She also violated the terms of her confinement. From that point, our course is clear, and I do not advocate any deviation from it in regards to her feelings. Her confinement must be extended, and she get a dressing down, which I'm sure she's expecting." She took a sip of her drink. "All I'm providing you was what you asked for, her version of events. I'm not trying to excuse what she did. I really wish you wouldn't lecture me on it. Since I demoted her and locked her in her room, I'm pretty sure you know how I feel about her when it comes to ships discipline."

Jael straightened up even more in her seat and took another drink from her wine. Her eyes darkened to a deep jade green as she held strong with Alexia’s gaze. “I understand the why, Alexia. In my professional opinion, Ensign Rathburn was seeking outside approval since her confidence was demolished when she installed the faulty coil. Instead of looking to herself to feel better and build herself back up she reach around blindly for anyone and anything that gave her the attention she was craving. Phillipe, unfortunately, could smell it like a rat smelling its next meal. The why is very obvious, Alexia. That is one thing we all have in common. We have all at some point or another have reached around in search of someone so we can feel something.”

"Does that explain how you and Dutch got together?" Alexia aside, taking a sip of her drink before she carried on eating.

“I met Dutch three years ago. The Russian had been transferred to another job and I was brought in to be Dutch’s partner to help change the dynamic of our investigations and our follow-throughs. I had spent the majority of my life working on my own. I only interacted with targets, so you can imagine what that had done to my thought-process and emotional state.”

"I can imagine." Alexia said, then waited for Jael to carry on. This was a rare insight into Jael's life, and she wasn't going to miss this for anything.

Jael took another drink from her glass. Only Dutch knew this much about Jael. She was about to take a leap of faith. “As a child I had only known about the textbook definitions of love and sex. Very logical and straightforward and shallow. I had sex but never had a relationship. I just could not develop that bond, which stems from the death of my parents. I had sex because I wanted to feel like a normal person, like I could feel something. After a year I asked Dutch to, more or less, experiment. He had felt disconnected with himself as well, and thus began our relationship. We remained partners because we were able to separate ourselves from each other and our work. So, yes, I do understand why Ensign Rathburn did what she did.”

It was truly a rare insight into Jael. That she'd opened up to Alexia this much was clearly a new level of trust that had opened up between the women. It also made a great deal of sense, as if she really looked back on it - her own sexual exploits could easily be categorised, at least in the early days, as seeking approval. Maybe that was why Bree had done what she'd done. Who knows for sure, but what was very clear was that this wasn't just Jael being all bluster and bite. She was coming at this from a personal understanding.

"So, maybe go easier on her than you might otherwise have done?" Alexia proposed. "She deserves to be reprimanded for what she did, but if you understand her thought processes, you can understand the level of desperation she must've been under to sleep with that vile creature, not just the once, but several times. She's certainly set a new low for herself, that's for damn sure. Falling for a sexual predator like that guy, it makes my skin crawl just thinking about it. Considering what he was going to do to me..."

“I am only going ‘easy’ on Ensign Rathburn because we do not have any Brigs available.” Jael took another bite of her food and followed it with a swig of her drink. “She is behaving like a child so she will be treated as such. 15 days extended detention in her quarters and I will be monitoring who comes and goes both in and around it. She gets the pleasure of trying to fix her tarnished reputation amongst the crew and gain our trust again. At this point she is to go nowhere near any cases of importance. We cannot risk her taking another significant misstep. She has been lucky the consequences have not been deadly. Is that reasonable enough for you, Alexia?”

"Perfectly." Alexia replied, taking another bite of the delicious food. "You might do well to underline to her how lucky she is that the brigs are full, and that they weren't able to take over the ship. Had it been more severe, there's a good chance she'd be in a penal colony right about now." She paused and took another sip of drink. "Regardless of why she did it, she still did it. Have her reassigned to the solid waste processing plant on deck 34 for the next three months. If she wants to spend time with pieces of shit, I'm more than happy to accommodate."

Jael looked at Alexia and gave her a humored grin. Alexia was a rather feisty woman when she believed she was being taken advantage of. “If I may turn the subject to a more positive one, Alexia, I would like to speak about Ensign DuBare and Lieutenant Richardson.” She paused as she took a drink from her wine glass. “My understanding is they took on a leadership role and were able to secure the rather large Engineering area before we arrived to assist.”

Alexia took the final bite of her dinner and looked at Jael. "I've yet to see their after-action reports, but I had heard that they attempted to re-take engineering." She said. "Sadly, I've not yet been brought up to speed on events below-decks beyond general status updates."

"Dutch made it a point to advise me of their successes in overpowering the colonists before they were able to access any major systems." Jael finished the rest of her own meal and rested her fork next to her empty plate. "I believe you will take great pride in our crew's efforts as I have, Alexia. Dutch is not one to exaggerate his claims. If Starfleet feels unable to recognize their efforts, as they were merely doing what has been asked of them, it will serve to push these officers to continue their efforts in improving their records aboard to recognize them ourselves.”

"Not a bad idea." Alexia nodded. "I'll have to see what I can come up with." She smiled at Jael. "Put together a nice justification report, and lets see what we can do." Despite everything that had happened, it was great that during the crisis, her crew had stepped up to the mark. Given the kicking they'd received to get to this point, it was inspiring that they still cared enough about their ship and crew-mates that they were prepared to put their lives on the line to save it. These two officers deserved recognition for that.

Jael gave her a quick nod. “Yes, Alexia.” She looked over the glasses and the last bit of the contents of the wine bottle. “Alexia, are you familiar with the works of Friedrich Nietzsche?”

"I recognise the name, but that's about all." Alexia replied, modestly. "I'm afraid I'm not as well read as you are."

“Nietzsche believed that in order for one to achieve greatness and self-enlightenment, or Ubermensch, one must break free from conventional moral and ethical codes. The hive-mind limits a person’s mental creativity and higher-thinking, causing one to become a ‘slave’ to the state. ‘One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.’ I never gave his philosophies much thought, as I have been afforded the ability to not be tied down by the typical human social constructs.” She paused, splitting the last of the wine between the two glasses. “But after the events that lead me to working on this assignment I have become more appreciative of his sort of anti-conformist thinking.”

"I'll be honest with you Jael, I don't understand any of that," Alexia chuckled at her first officer. "You sound more like a psychiatrist than a former intelligence officer. It's genuinely quite scary how intelligent you really are at times." She picked up her glass and saluted Jael before taking a sip.

Jael grinned as she picked up her glass. "You can see why I have fallen victim to a lifelong struggle with making friends."

"Just people don't take the time to get to know you." Alexia smirked. "Once they do, they'll realise you're an excellent cook, and that in itself is worth having you around for." She teased.

"Maybe I should bribe Ensign Rathburn with some of my Zurchergeschnetzeltes before our meeting," Jael returned the jest before downing the rest of her wine and letting out a long sigh in satisfaction.


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