Her Constant Companion

Summary: “Guilt has been her constant companion.” – Tuvok, Night. But it’s not the only constant in her life.

 

Characters: Janeway, Tuvok

Codes: Janeway/Chakotay (mentioned), Tuvok/T'Pel (mentioned)

 

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 the Star Trek Friendshipfest 2017 exchange.

 

References herein to the VOY novels Mosaic, Pathways, Cloak and Dagger, and A Pocket Full of Lies, as well as episodes Caretaker, Prime Factors, Hope and Fear, Night, Counterpoint and Repression. It helps to be familiar with all of the above, but hopefully this story stands on its own.

Rated K+

January, 2375 – USS Voyager

If they’d had a counsellor on board, as she has often lamented, it might never have come to this… but even as she thinks it she knows it’s a lie. She has never been one to crack open the dusty corners of her mind, or to bare the wounds in her soul. And even though she’s been down this road before – once, twice, more – it’s a path she travels anyway, comforted in a way by its very familiarity.

She rests her forehead against the viewport and closes her eyes. The transparent aluminium leaches the cold of null space into her skull, and she imagines for a moment being sucked out into the vacuum, her lungs expanding, her cells rupturing, her consciousness fading until her body floats free, untethered and lifeless. It wouldn’t be painless, but it would be quick.

Quicker than this, she thinks, her eyes opening onto her reflection. The woman echoed in the window is sullen and drawn, cheeks thinned and hair lank. Her uniform has seen better days, too, and she’s grown accustomed to the odour of her own unwashed body.

Her chime rings right on time and she automatically bids her visitor enter. She’s expecting Chakotay – it’s become his custom, after six weeks in the Void, to claim the excuse of status reports in order to check up on her. But he is not the man who enters the dim prison of her quarters.

“This is a surprise,” she says, her voice flat and hoarse from disuse. “Did Chakotay call for reinforcements?”

Tuvok barely spares her a raised eyebrow. “The commander is otherwise engaged. I offered to bring the ship’s reports in his stead.”

She holds out a hand without comment, but no padd is placed in it. Tuvok stands with hands clasped behind his back and she wrinkles her forehead at him.

“Report, then, Commander.”

“All systems are running at optimal levels. Lieutenant Torres is devising a new protocol designed to conserve energy. Mr Neelix has implemented rationing of fresh foodstuffs and has requested cargo bay one be partitioned to create an additional hydroponics garden.”

“Approved.”

“Ensign Kim has asked for additional rotations on gamma shift to increase his command experience.”

“Fine.”

“The Doctor notes that this is the ideal time to catch up on the crew’s regular medical examinations. Your name was submitted at the top of his list.”

“Not a chance in hell.”

“I will convey your responses.”

She turns back to the starless viewport and waits for him to leave, but Tuvok surprises her by sitting, uninvited, on the low couch directly in front of her.

“Something else, Commander?”

“Your presence is missed on the bridge, Captain.”

“I’m sure you’re all coping just fine without me. It’s not as if I’m needed.” Catching the infinitesimal hitch of his brow, she amends, “Up there, I mean.”

“I disagree. Your absence is unsettling to the crew at a time when your leadership is sorely needed. Your wellbeing is becoming of concern to many of them, myself and Commander Chakotay in particular.”

“Really,” she says, tone flat with warning.

“If you are experiencing emotional distress, Captain, I am at your disposal. I would remind you that in the past, I’ve had some success in assisting you using Vulcan meditation techniques.”

“That was then,” she grates. “This is not at all the same situation, and I’m perfectly able to see to my own wellbeing without your help.”

He watches her, solemn and unoffended.

“Dismissed,” she snaps, and Tuvok rises smoothly from his seat.

When she’s alone again she returns to gazing through the viewport with eyes as vacant as the space outside.

 

~*~


October, 2364 – McKinley Station

She doesn’t remember the first time she met him.

She was broken down, mourning a series of bad decisions that had resulted in terrible injuries to three of her crew, injuries she was sure could have been avoided had she just been a better commander.

Tuvok had been among the security officers stationed at McKinley when she brought the Billings home. He’d overseen the transfer of equipment and personnel, and had apparently stood beside her as she watched, head high and shoulders straight, while the crew disembarked.

She doesn’t remember it, but he had questioned her as she stood her honour guard. He’d read the security report from the mission to the third moon of Parva II, and despite it not being his place to investigate, his orderly mind had noted several irregularities in the mission reports. He felt it was his duty to clarify events. But he had ceased his line of questioning when it became clear that Commander Janeway, brevet captain of the USS Billings, was in a state of emotional shock.

It was a state from which she believed she had recovered even before the debriefings and the mandatory counselling. Only in the aftermath, when the dreams began, did she admit to herself that perhaps she had never, has never, recovered.

 

~*~


April, 2371 – USS Voyager

Splinters of blue and white light prick the edges of her vision and she doesn’t think she has ever been so tired. In her mind she replays the moment, over and over again, the moment she sentenced them all to exile.

“The Prime Directive would seem to apply,” he had said, and perversely, his dispassionate reasoning gave her the courage to carry out her decision. Had she been accompanied by any other crewman she might have been swayed by a predictable emotional response, but Tuvok’s logic has always been her ballast and her comfort.

Now, though. Now she’s faced with a battered ship, a crew fractured by shock and despair and ideology. Now she has to lead them home, and the task seems insurmountable.

And so many of them are dead.

“What am I going to do?”

Tuvok shifts, a slight movement in her peripheral vision, and to her horror she realises she’s spoken aloud. She overcompensates by briskly, immediately, bringing a padd upright and accessing the Val Jean crew manifest.

“The Maquis will have to integrate into the crew,” she says. “I’ll be relying on your knowledge of their skills to find appropriate posts for them.”

“Captain.”

To her surprise, he touches her elbow – she can count on one hand the times he’s made deliberate physical contact with her – and guides her to the couch under the viewport.

“My first recommendation is that you offer Captain Chakotay a field commission as your first officer.”

It’s an idea she’s been flirting with, but she’s surprised to hear it from Tuvok.

“Why?”

“I’m aware I would be the expected choice to fill that role. However, if your wish is to integrate the crews, it would be wise to appoint the highest-ranking Maquis instead. You will also find Chakotay a highly skilled, Starfleet-trained and capable commander.”

“High praise.” She taps the padd against her chin, regarding him. “How do I convince him?”

“By appealing to his sense of responsibility. Unlike many of his crew, Chakotay is not a malcontent but a man of principle. Offer him the chance to provide for his crew and keep them safe, and I believe he will accept.”

The tight knot of despair around her heart loosens an infinitesimal amount. “What would I do without you, Tuvok?”

“You would prevail,” he returns. “But it is fortunate that you will not have to.”

She allows herself the brief comfort of her fingers pressing his before she dismisses him. Then she leans her head against the viewport and watches the stars streak by in blue and white splinters of light, until the edges of her vision blur.

 

~*~


January, 2375 – USS Voyager

“Captain.” Tuvok answers his door swathed in long robes the colour of wet earth. “Please, come in.”

Even after all the years they’ve known each other, Kathryn feels like an intruder whenever she drops by unannounced.

“Tea?”

“Thank you.” She perches on the edge of a chair as he prepares the spiced brew.

“I presume you’ve come to seek my counsel, Captain.”

She allows herself a wry smile. “You know me too well.”

“How may I help you?”

She stares into her tea as though it contains the words she’s trying to summon. “Arturis blamed me for the annihilation of his species,” she says finally, her fingers linked around the delicate teacup. “And I’ve been wondering if he was right.”

“You made the best decision you could with the information you had to hand.”

“Did I?” She places the teacup on the small table and paces over to the viewport. “I’m trained to weigh the options and make the hard calls, Tuvok. But I’m beginning to wonder if I’ve been willfully ignoring data I should have considered. How many of my decisions have been made under duress and shaped by emotive and selfish desires?”

“Based on our long acquaintance and my observations of you both as my commanding officer and my friend, I do not believe the command decisions you’ve been forced to make, during this mission or in years past, have been made in haste or informed by selfish considerations. Arturis was distraught, but you were not the cause of his suffering. The Borg were.”

“But I took away his people’s last defence against them.” She turns, her eyes piercing in the dim room. “I made that choice. I sentenced his entire species to assimilation.”

“You could not have known that would be the outcome of ending the conflict between the Borg and Species 8472.”

“Couldn’t I?” She smiles without mirth. “Species 8472 are relatively unknown to us, but the Borg aren’t. We know exactly what they’re like. And I can’t pretend I didn’t know that, given the opportunity, they’d continue to destroy or assimilate other species.”

Tuvok places his cup beside hers and rises to stand beside her at the viewport. “Captain, earlier you commented that I know you too well. You were correct; I’m well aware of your propensity to reflect unfavourably on your past choices. You tend to blame yourself when the outcomes are undesirable, despite your having weighed the options and made the best decision you could. Re-evaluation of our choices allows us to reflect on our motivations and consider other options when we are faced with similar choices in future, but punishing yourself for what you cannot change is illogical. You could not have known. You can only accept what is past.”

She nods once as though Tuvok’s words are permeating the thick veil of guilt, but when she says quietly, “Thank you, my friend,” and leaves without another word, his gaze tracks her path to his door, and he resolves to observe her more vigilantly as they enter the starless void ahead.

 

~*~


November, 2365 – Starfleet Command

The first time she remembers meeting him, he broke her down. Stripped her to her constituent parts, left her shaking with frustrated anger and the niggling, resentful fear that he was absolutely right about her.

The Billings had whittled some of the confidence she’d managed to rebuild since her trial of fire – or rather, ice – but Ensign Tuvok’s clinical recitation of the embarrassing number of protocol infractions Captain Janeway had committed during her command of the Bonestell sanded it to a sliver. She was humiliated, incensed. She’d come to the review board expecting to be gently praised, not to fight for her career.

She’d resented what she saw as her punishment – the irritatingly hide-bound Vulcan was assigned to her ship. To keep her in line, the review board ordered, though of course they’d phrased it more delicately. And yet, once the first flush of rage had left her and she’d grown accustomed to his presence on her ship, she’d found herself warming to his company.

It wasn’t personal. He had no vendetta, no ulterior motive. He simply believed that pointing out her flaws was his duty, and neither rank nor her sharp tongue would deter him.

Kathryn Janeway was used to getting her own way, and prepared to fight for it when she didn’t. She worked hard, she relished a worthy adversary, and she knew all the dirty tricks when all else failed, but Tuvok was impervious. As far as he was concerned, there was no fight.

She didn’t understand that, but she respected it.

In turn, Ensign Tuvok respected her. He never doubted her ability to command. His only motivation, as far as she could tell, was to do his job.

 

~*~


August, 2371 – USS Voyager

The first time he fails her, she is so devastated she can barely come to grips with it.

He did it for her, and that’s possibly the worst part. That his loyalty to her outstrips his loyalty to the organisation they both serve shifts the sands under her feet. She would understand almost anyone else lying to her to absolve her of responsibility, but Tuvok?

You are my counsel, the one I turn to when I need my moral compass checked.

He, of all people, should understand just how important it is to her that she not be shielded from the truth. In all the years they’ve served together she has never shied from the hard decisions. She has lived with them, with their impact and their consequences, and she has done so because that’s who she is.

She’s the captain.

That’s her privilege and her burden, and she will fight to the death anyone who tries to take that from her, no matter how tender their motive.

In time, she comes to accept that even a Vulcan can be fallible. But her trust in him – previously so absolute – will never be quite the same again.

 

~*~


March, 2375 – USS Voyager

After the third inspection, after the telepaths have been retrieved from transporter suspension, she calls Tuvok into her ready room.

“We have a problem. Inspector Kashyk has made it clear that Voyager won’t be given clear passage across Devore space. I expect we’ll be seeing quite a bit more of him and his soldiers.”

“Do you believe he suspects the Brenari are on board?”

“Possibly. I don’t know if twice-weekly inspections are standard for gaharay vessels in Devore territory or if we’re a special case, but the Inspector does seem to have taken a particular interest in Voyager.” She sighs. “And in me.”

“The Devore must know of the wormhole’s existence. Perhaps Inspector Kashyk is observing us closely in the hope that we’ll lead him to it.”

“Then I’ll have to convince him that we know nothing, and quickly. Each time you and the other telepaths go into transporter suspension you risk further cellular degradation.”

“Perhaps we could lay a false trail for his inspection ships to follow. If we manufacture neutrino readings on a route we don’t intend to follow, he may take the bait.”

“And if he doesn’t?”

“Then I have no doubt you will find another way to persuade him.”

His dark eyes meet hers placidly and she feels as though she’s been slapped in the face. And yet, she knows, his suggestion is only logical.

“Thank you, Tuvok. Dismissed.”

She retreats to the viewport to study the alien stars, and admits to herself, finally, that there’s a reason she excluded Chakotay from this meeting. His response to the tactic Tuvok offered would have been predictably emotional. And she admits, as well, that she’d already known what Tuvok was going to say.

It’s not as if she hadn’t already figured it out herself. She’s in this to win – to save the telepaths, she amends, but concedes that it’s effectively the same thing – and she will use any weapon at her disposal to do so.

And she’s the one who made the call to traverse Devore space, in spite of the risks. She’s the one who should pay the price, even if all she has to trade is her body.

And yet, she can’t help feeling hurt and resentful that Tuvok came to that same conclusion.

 

~*~


April, 2370 – ShiKahr, Vulcan

The red dust sticks in the tread of her Starfleet-issued boots and she tries without success to dislodge it by knocking her feet against the step. At the door T’Pel offers her a greeting that, by Vulcan standards, is positively exuberant.

“My husband is in the atrium. Are you here to request his return to duty?”

“Yes. I’m sorry you couldn’t have more time together.”

T’Pel inclines her head. “I’ll bring you some tea.”

Kathryn thanks her and tracks red dust along the polished corridor. In the atrium, Tuvok rises from his knees. “Captain.”

She knows why Tuvok returned to Vulcan, but hopes she gives no sign of it; she has no wish to intrude on his privacy. T’Pel returns with the tea and closes the door as she retreats, and Kathryn takes the seat Tuvok offers.

“I have a mission for you,” she begins. “There have been reports of increased Maquis activity in the DMZ. Several Cardassian military installations have been targeted in the past month and the Detapa Council has raised official objections with the president’s office. Starfleet patrols have been doubled, but we’ve been unable to penetrate the Maquis strongholds. Your orders are to infiltrate one of their cells to gain intelligence on their movements and report back to Starfleet.”

She hands him a padd.

Tuvok scans it and raises his eyes to her. “Joining a terrorist organisation would seem an illogical step for a Vulcan.”

“We know there are a number of Vulcans serving in the Maquis; I assume they’ve found a way to justify it.”

“The Maquis’ objection to the Federation-Cardassian peace treaty is based on the belief that Cardassia cannot be trusted to adhere to its terms. Given our past interactions with Cardassia and the reports of brutality to former Federation citizens in the Demilitarised Zone, that is not an illogical assumption.”

Kathryn winces; he’s voiced her private opinion accurately. “You’ll have to convince the Maquis that you share that assumption.”

“I do not.”

She blinks. “Excuse me?”

“The Maquis claim they are fighting against Cardassian occupation of their home planets and the violence they believe this will provoke. Yet their methods promote the very bloodshed they claim they wish to avoid, in addition to destabilising the political alliance between Cardassia and the Federation. I believe their actions will only create an atmosphere of aggression, and will ultimately embroil this quadrant in war.”

Kathryn is stunned, shaken. Although Tuvok’s speech is, from one perspective, logical and sound and probably true, she finds herself shocked that he would take such a hard line. This is not the man she knows, the man she’s served with, whose arguments are always rational but never lacking in compassion. And she wonders – knowing of the turmoil he’s just emerged from, having barely made it home to Vulcan before the plak tow set in – whether he’s really recovered enough to take this on.

“I hope,” she says slowly, “that your convictions won’t interfere with your ability to complete this mission, Lieutenant.”

“I will endeavour to fulfill my duty, Captain.”

“Report to Starbase 211 for a full mission briefing on Stardate 47364,” she says, unable to hide the clipped harshness of her tone. “Good luck, Mr Tuvok.”

And yet, as she boards the shuttle back to Earth, she regrets her coolness and her hasty departure. If he isn’t ready for this – if the Maquis captain whose cell he’s being sent to infiltrate exposes his true motive – Tuvok’s life will be in danger. And it will be her fault.

For all she knows, this could be the last time she ever sees him.

 

~*~


February, 2377 – USS Voyager

She’s not afraid of him, exactly. What frightens her is the utter lack of recognition in his eyes when she looks at him. His hand never wavers as he points the phaser at her head.

“You’re in control of your actions,” she tries desperately to reach him. “Don’t do this.”

He gazes back at her, his dark eyes calm and unaffected, and he presses the trigger.

The phaser misfires.

He doesn’t miss a beat as he hands the defective phaser back to her mind-controlled first officer. And as she is escorted back to the brig, one foot in front of the other, Kathryn, her trembling hands held behind her back, she replays that moment over and over again.

He would have killed me, she thinks as the guard grips her arm and pushes her ungently into her cell. It’s one of the darkest hours of her life; she’s lost her ship, her freedom, and her two closest friends have just used her in a callous demonstration of loyalty.

She paces her cell incessantly – because if she stops, she’ll collapse – until Tuvok and Chakotay, restored to themselves, come to give her back her ship. She finds herself searching her old friend’s eyes, desperate to find that warmth of recognition that was missing in them, and so grateful when she finds it that she almost weeps.

Later, she asks him how he knew the phaser would misfire, and his answer is nothing short of horrifying. She had reached him – her words had penetrated Teero’s shroud of mind control – and yet he still pressed the trigger. It was a calculated risk she would never have taken with his life.

She wonders if his actions have left him with any residual doubt, or if he has already rationalised them perfectly, stored the entire incident into a neat box and closed its lid. She wonders if she will ever be able to trust him again, knowing that his logic could have caused her death.

And she replays the moment he held a phaser to her head over and over again.

 

~*~


July, 2382 – USS Vesta

That another version of herself has suffered, almost beyond human endurance, for things she herself did brings forth that old, familiar swell of guilt.

That her oldest friend and her lover conspired to keep the truth from her, to protect her from it, breaks her heart.

She’ll have time and space to work it through with Chakotay when he and Voyager are back from returning Tuvok to the Titan, but she may not see Tuvok for years. And although their brief conversation before he left has gone some way toward mending their fractured friendship, she doesn’t know when they’ll be able to resolve it completely.

Maybe they never will. Maybe there are too many breaches of trust, too many layers of guilt and regret that weigh them down.

Maybe they’ve both changed too much.

He lied to her for her own good, or at least his interpretation of it. It’s a repeat of the mistake he made a decade earlier and is something she’s struggling to reconcile. And her reaction now, to Tuvok’s decision to hide the existence of her alternate’s daughter, is the same as her reaction then, when he’d stolen the Sikarian transport device to spare her an ethical dilemma.

Maybe she hasn’t changed that much after all.

She has always held Tuvok to exacting standards, perhaps because their friendship began when she was held up against his standards and found wanting. She depends on him, on his solid predictability, on the soundness of his logic and the steadfastness of his loyalty.

It hurts her deeply that he didn’t trust her.

And yet, his loyalty was still to her, in a way. He chose to keep that other Kathryn Janeway’s secret, and to protect her child.

She considers the irony: she, as the Borg queen, was responsible for the loss of Tuvok’s son. Tuvok would refute that claim as twisted and histrionic logic, and she has come to terms with it herself… and yet. Guilt, her old familiar friend, has a habit of creeping up on her.

It’s late, and her quarters on Vesta are silent with ghosts and regret, and she knows that unless she resolves this, sleep won’t come tonight.

She opens a channel to Voyager and asks to speak with Tuvok.

“Admiral,” he greets her, his appearance unruffled, though she knows he, too, has not been sleeping.

“I won’t keep you up,” she says. “But I felt we parted with a few things left unsaid.”

“You are questioning whether you are responsible for the choices I made during our recent mission,” Tuvok states. “You regret sending me to retrieve Denzit Janeway. You believe you should have known that my state of mind led me to make decisions you disagree with, and you wonder if your absence these past few years has caused me to lose faith in you.”

She sits back, and a slow smile creeps over her face. “I guess you really do know me too well, Tuvok.”

Deep in his eyes there’s a spark of humour she hasn’t seen in all the weeks he’s been with the Full Circle fleet. “I know you well enough to predict your thought patterns would incline towards guilt and self-blame. But in this case, Admiral,” his eyes grow serious, “the fault is mine. And I regret that my actions have hurt you.”

“I’ll get over it,” she says softly. “And I forgive you.”

“Perhaps you’ll also consider forgiving yourself.”

“It’s good to see you haven’t changed all that much, Tuvok. You’re still as forthright as ever.” Kathryn shakes her head slightly, her smile widening. “I’ll miss you, old friend.”

“And I you.” Tuvok bows his head. “T’Pel conveys her regret that it has been too long since your last visit to Vulcan.”

“Then I look forward to her hospitality the next time I’m in the neighbourhood.”

“Live long and prosper, Admiral.”

“Safe travels,” she replies, and closes the channel.

She is almost immediately overtaken by a wave of fatigue, and as she undresses, yawning, she smiles at the knowledge that she’ll sleep well tonight.

 

~*~


September, 2367 – ShiKahr, Vulcan

The red dust clings to her bare soles and she pushes the hair out of her sweaty face, irritated beyond rationality. “Remind me again what we’re doing out here, Lieutenant?”

Her companion – tall, dark and unflustered as ever, the fetid heat barely raising the slightest perspiration on his smooth skin – stops to wait for her again. “You asked me to share with you my favoured place for meditation. That is what I’m doing.”

She huffs. “I didn’t realise I’d have to trek through ten kilometres of desert to get here.”

“If you are tired, Captain, we can return to the house.”

 “I’m fine,” she snaps, but the buckling of her legs beneath her gives the lie to her words, and annoys her intensely.

Tuvok’s hand slips under her elbow, steadying her. “You’re fatigued. And you haven’t eaten in several days.”

Kathryn snorts, brushing at another errant lock of hair. “You’re exaggerating. Besides, I’ve seen you go two weeks without food.”

“True. Vulcans can, and often do, go without nutrition for extended periods without significant negative effects. You, however, are not Vulcan.”

He helps her to the top of the dune and sinks down onto it, his long legs crossed. Though she’d never admit it, she’s thankful for the chance to collapse beside him.

“Are we there yet?” she asks, sarcasm hiding her weariness.

Tuvok passes her a water flask. “We are. The ruins of Gha’Shar are in that direction.”

She follows his pointing finger, squinting against the fierce Vulcan sun. On the horizon, wavering in the heat-shear, she makes out several tall stone columns.

“What’s the significance?” She doesn’t mean to sound terse, but the high gravity and thin atmosphere, combined with her – yes, all right, Tuvok – lack of nutrition have made her breathless.

“Centuries ago, Gha’Shar was a temple, a sanctuary for convalescents and the wounded. It is a monument to sacrifice and service and a place of healing and quiet contemplation. I find it a useful point of focus to meditate, particularly when I’m troubled.”

“And you brought me here because…?”

“You are troubled, are you not?”

She thins her lips. “Not according to the counsellor at Starfleet Medical.”

“I’m aware you’ve been given a clean bill of health, so to speak. However, Captain, I’ve been observing you closely since the accident. Your sleeping patterns are disturbed and, as I have already mentioned, you are not ingesting sufficient nutrients. You are also preoccupied and withdrawn. I venture to suggest that you are not as recovered as you led your counsellor to believe.”

Patient presented with evidence of post-traumatic stress disorder and dissociative personality disorder … highly competitive and self-critical … history of reacting to trauma with avoidant and self-harming behaviours … restrictive eating, disinterest in personal care, excessive sleeping … Periods of withdrawn behaviour punctuated by periods of intense emotional response … described feeling guilt and a need to atone for her decisions … Recommend continued cognitive behaviour therapy and medication … reassess after period of leave … expected return to active duty upon favourable assessment …

Kathryn takes a swig of water to give herself time to frame an answer. “I came to Vulcan because you invited me to spend time with your family, Tuvok. I didn’t realise I’d be subjected to continued scrutiny.”

“Didn’t you?”

She glares.

“My observation of you over these past weeks, as well as the two years we have served together, leads me to discern a pattern in your behaviour.”

“Do tell.” Her voice is as frosty as the desert is parched.

“You believe you are responsible for the deaths of Ensign Shiara and Lieutenant Cosgrove, despite the attack on the away team being an unpredictable event. In truth, any of the duty crew could assume the blame for the incident. The planet was scanned before our landing parties were sent down. None of us detected the creatures, and neither Cosgrove nor Shiara nor any of the other teams reported any sign of animal life on the surface.”

“I ordered them into the cave system,” she says flatly. “They reported that communications and tricorder signals were blocked. But I wanted to find out what those damned rock paintings meant, so I told them to go in anyway.”

“It was a calculated risk. Shiara was an archaeologist, Captain. It was her belief that the paintings were indications of an ancient civilisation, and her recommendation that she and Cosgrove enter the caves in search of more evidence.”

“And it was my job to keep them safe!” she bursts out. “God, Tuvok, they were torn apart! There wasn’t even enough of them left to bury. And I had to tell their families that they’d died because I was too damned impatient to send in a security team before them!”

“They died in the course of duty,” Tuvok responds, his voice a tranquil counterpoint to her anguish. “I do not believe either Ensign Shiara or Lieutenant Cosgrove would have chosen a different death.”

“I can’t imagine a worse death than being torn limb from limb.”

“Apparently not. You appear to prefer a death by degrees.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Tuvok’s voice deepens, commanding her attention. “You are starving yourself and denying yourself adequate rest. If this is your penance for failing to save their lives, you do your fallen crewmen no justice. You should honour their sacrifice by your service, not by punishing yourself.”

“Don’t pull any punches, will you,” she mutters under her breath, then louder, “All right, I get the message. So now what? You take me home and let T’Pel force-feed me?”

“It is my hope that she won’t have to.”

He touches her hand, and she stares at it; unexpectedly she finds herself blinking back tears. She scrubs an impatient palm under her eyes and clears her throat, but her voice is still gruff when she speaks.

“So are you going to teach me how to meditate, or what?”

 

~*~


January, 2375 – USS Voyager

When Tuvok enters her quarters the lights are dimmed, as they were the last time he visited, but it’s not so she can hide. It’s so that nothing can detract from the opulent beauty of the starscape through her viewport.

She still looks pale and there’s evidence of her haphazard self-care over the past months, but her uniform is clean and her hair smooth. And when he enters she manages a rueful smile.

“You’ve been to see the Doctor.”

“I have,” she agrees, moving to the replicator. “Tea?”

“Thank you.”

Hands full, she nods him toward a seat. “To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit, Commander?”

“I came to inquire after your wellbeing.”

“Again?” she says archly, then relents. “I’m all right, Tuvok. Or at least, I will be.”

“I am available if you wish to seek my assistance in meditating.”

“Thank you.” She sips her coffee. “Although I haven’t quite forgiven you for that little stunt you pulled on the bridge.”

“The ‘stunt’ was a team effort.”

“Oh, I’m well aware of that. But if you try to tell me you and Chakotay weren’t the ringleaders, I won’t believe a word of it.”

Tuvok dips his head. “As I mentioned, the commander and I were concerned about you. Both he and I have observed your tendency to harbour guilt for your past decisions. Given your recent reclusiveness, it was not difficult to conclude that you might seek to atone for your imagined sins.”

“I’m not so sure they’re imagined.”

Tuvok places his cup deliberately on the side table. “Captain … Kathryn.”

Surprised, for he almost never uses her first name, she sits a little straighter.

“What you see as your sins are the products of every Hobson’s choice you’ve been forced to make, and there is not a crewman on this vessel who would want to see you suffer for them. That much should be clear from today’s events. You carry a great burden and your guilt is only adding to it. It’s time to let it go.”

“I’m not sure,” she says slowly, “that I know how.”

“Then allow me to help you.”

“With meditation?”

“Not tonight.” Tuvok stands and holds a hand out to her. “Come with me.”

“Where are we going?” she asks, rising and taking his hand.

“I told you the crew has missed you during your isolation. I believe you need further evidence of this.” She catches the faintest flicker of expression across his face as they pause just inside her door – resignation, or perhaps distaste. “Mr Neelix has, in his customary way, devised a social occasion to celebrate our release from the Void.”

“Why, Tuvok.” A smile twitches the corners of her mouth, blossoming into a grin. “Are you taking me to a party?”

Forbearance, she decides, as that expression crosses his features again.

“Indeed,” he answers dryly, and as they move into the corridor she finds herself laughing for the first time in months.

 

 

 

_______________________________________

 


Note: I relied heavily on Memory Beta and the Voyager novels for this story. Unfortunately, they’re annoyingly contradictory on such important issues as Janeway’s and Tuvok’s respective ranks over the years, which starships Janeway commanded during the 2360s and when she and Tuvok met, and they also conflict with TV canon, which conflicts with itself (you see my problem here).

For the sake of this story, I’m assuming the following: Commander Janeway brevet-captained the USS
Billings in 2363-64. She was promoted to captain of the USS Bonestell in 2365 and was evaluated by Ensign Tuvok at the end of her first deep-space mission, after which Tuvok was transferred under her command. The traumatic event Tuvok refers to in Night when Janeway was still a commander doesn't fit with other apocrypha so I've put my own spin on it.

 

© 2021 by Mia Cooper