Loss of Life
Summary: After the mission that takes Joe Carey’s life, three friends meet in his quarters to say goodbye.
Characters: Paris, Janeway, Neelix
Codes: Janeway & Paris, Janeway & Paris & Neelix
Disclaimer: Paramount/CBS own all rights to the Voyager universe and its characters, which I am borrowing without permission or intent to profit.
Notes: Written for #fictober2018 Day 29 prompt: "At least it can’t get any worse.” Episode addition to Friendship One.
Tom wraps a soft cloth around the holocube of Joe Carey with his wife and sons, folding the corners with military precision before he slots it carefully into the storage container.
“I think this one’s full,” he announces, glancing up for Neelix’s agreement before he closes and seals the lid. “Need a hand over there?”
Neelix shakes his head as he opens the bottom drawer of the bureau. “I’m almost done. But I think the captain could use some help.”
He points his chin toward Janeway, who’s hunkered over the coffee table scrolling through Lieutenant Carey’s logs, marking them for filing, transmission to Starfleet’s official archives or for personal recipients. She has one hand at her temple, massaging it, and her body is written in lines of miserable defeat.
But as Tom approaches, the captain straightens up and even manages a smile.
“How are you doing?” she asks him, injecting just the right amount of bracing sympathy into her tone.
“Honestly?” Tom sighs, dropping onto the couch beside her. “I’ve been better.”
Janeway rests a hand on his shoulder. “I know.”
“He died right in front of me.” Tom looks at his hands, trying not to picture them stained with the blood from Carey’s head wound; it hadn’t been the wound that killed him, anyway.
“It wasn’t your fault.”
“I know, but…” Tom’s voice trails off.
Neelix detours from the replicator toward the couch, carrying two mugs of bergamot tea that he deposits in front of them.
“Thanks,” says Janeway, sipping hers slowly before she turns back to the computer.
“What are you doing?” Neelix asks, following her line of sight.
“Preparing for the task every captain dreads the most,” she sighs, “informing the deceased’s next of kin. I’m making sure I don’t leave any of Lieutenant Carey’s personal logs out of the next data transmission to his wife.”
“Captain,” Tom ventures, “I was wondering if I could be there when you speak to Mrs Carey? If you think it’s appropriate, that is.”
To her surprise, Tom ducks his head and his voice is strained when he replies. “I was the senior officer on that mission.” He looks up at her. “Doesn’t the buck stop with me?”
“You didn’t fire that weapon.”
“Does that really matter?” he asks, bitter. “He was under my command and I couldn’t protect him.”
“You did everything you could to reason with those people,” Janeway insists. “It wasn’t your fault, Tom.”
“Okay,” he says, but he shakes his head dubiously.
“Seems to me,” Neelix muses, “that certain people on this ship take on too much responsibility for things that are out of their control.”
Both the captain and Tom turn to look at him.
“Just saying,” he offers mildly, and wanders back to his corner of the room.
Silence descends as both Janeway and Tom stare at the words on the computer screen.
Dear JJ, they read. By the time you get this letter, you’ll have had your fourteenth birthday. I hope your uncle took you to climb Mount Karv. It was something of a rite of passage when I was your age …
The words begin to blur, and the captain reaches for her mug of tea, letting the warmth of it ground her.
“Every Starfleet officer knows that each mission carries the risk of losing people under your command,” she says softly. “Sometimes no matter what decision you make, people die, and all we can do is honour their memory.”
Tom rubs a hand across reddened eyes. “I guess at least it can’t get any worse than this.”
And because she’s the captain, because it’s her job, she grasps his hand firmly and injects conviction into her voice.
“Tomorrow will be better, Tom,” she tells him. “I promise.”