Summary: Janeway agrees to an unusual trade with a race of telepathic aliens, and dips a toe into seven possibilities.
Characters: Janeway, Tuvok, Chakotay, Seven, Paris
Codes: Janeway/Chakotay, Janeway/other
Disclaimer: Paramount's universe; fanfic's playground.
Warning: Most of this story could be rated PG-ish, but there's some heavy stuff in a few chapters, particularly Chapter IV. You have been warned.
Part VI | Guilt
She reminds herself that she is a starship captain and as such she is no stranger to the loss of those under her command. She has ordered crewmen into danger and death many times, and though she mourns each one of them still, she knows that this is part of the job. But this situation is not at all the same, and she can’t escape the fact that it is murder.
“Please sit down on the biobed.”
He complies. He doesn’t plead for his life, not anymore; he knows there’s no point. She can’t help but admire him as he faces his death with composure. The least she can do is look him in the eye as she empties the hypospray into his neck.
She moves to the console. “Initiating separation sequence,” she says, and her voice is steady. “Energising.”
The end of his existence is as undramatic as its beginning, and when he’s gone and two figures materialise in his place, she doesn’t permit the slightest crack in the mask of her expression.
“Mr Tuvok, Mr Neelix,” she says. “It’s good to have you back.”
Then she walks out of Sickbay before her traitorous stomach can revolt at what she’s just done.
She returns immediately to the bridge and tells herself it’s so the crew can see that she believes in the absolute rightness of her decision, that she hasn’t felt a moment’s hesitation. In truth it’s both her comfort and her penance. She’s the captain before the woman everywhere on this ship, but nowhere more so than on the bridge, and it’s the place where she usually needs to expend the least effort to be nothing but the captain. It’s also the place where she can least afford to fall apart, and so she forces herself to step out of the turbolift and take her chair without a moment’s break in her measured stride, to feel their eyes averting, and breathe through the suffocating silence as though this were just an ordinary day in the Delta quadrant.
She sees Tuvix in her dreams that night. She’d expected that, but it doesn’t make it any easier. In her dream, she’s sitting at her usual table in the mess hall and he serves her over-spiced tomato soup and takes the PADD from her hand, chiding her for working through dinner, then gives her a tactical report that’s peppered with dry insight. Then he places a single orchid on the table before her and asks her to wear it to his execution. She struggles into wakefulness in her silent bed, gasping, shame squeezing her heart like a fist.
It’s hours before her alarm but she gets up anyway, showers and goes to work in her ready room before the start of her shift. She’s making her third trip to the replicator for coffee, absently scanning an engineering report, when she hears him speak.
“You look tired, Captain.”
She whirls, and he’s sitting there solid as life in her chair. She drops the cup, coffee soaking heedlessly into the carpet as she stares at him. She squeezes her eyes shut and when she opens them, he’s gone.
Later in Engineering, as she’s helping B’Elanna run a diagnostic on the warp core, he appears from behind her station, tapping into a PADD as though him being there is the most natural thing in the world. She gasps, and B’Elanna asks if she’s all right, and when she turns back from answering her, he’s gone again.
She dreams of him again that night.
He appears at frequent but always unpredictable intervals after that. In her sonic shower, beside her on the bridge when Chakotay’s chair is empty, walking down a corridor. Once, a crewman enters the mess hall galley as she’s shoving her balled fists into her eyes to scrub the vision away and she has to pretend she got spice in her eye, turning away so the crewman won’t see the naked terror on her face.
She can barely stand to be in the same room as Tuvok or Neelix anymore.
Chakotay starts asking about the dark shadows under her eyes, the way she darts quick glances over her shoulder. She tells him she’ll see the Doctor for a sleeping aid, but she knows sleep will provide no respite. She invites Chakotay to her cabin for dinner, hoping to stave off Tuvix’s appearances with his company. “You look tired, Captain,” Chakotay says, concerned, and all she can hear is Tuvix’s laughter.
She understands that she’s losing her mind.
Several weeks after the execution of Tuvix, Kathryn lies in her bed while he perches on the edge of it, watching her with a faint smile that belies the accusation in his eyes. “You’re going to have to live with this, Captain,” he says softly. She begins to weep.
When the alarm wakes her the next morning after the now-expected night of fitful dreams, she shuts it off and doesn’t get out of bed. She instructs the computer to inform Chakotay that she’s taking the day off. As she sinks back into sleep, she hears Tuvix murmur, “I forgive you.”
She doesn’t leave her bed the next day, either; she lies in a twilight sleep and tries not to see Tuvix’s reproachful eyes. She thinks about the choice she made and remembers another choice she didn’t make, an indecision that killed two people she loved. She wonders if she is punishing herself for her killing of Tuvix or for that long-ago and equally fatal reluctance to choose.
She suspects she is damned either way.
When she doesn’t report for duty on the third day, Chakotay breaks into her quarters and has her beamed to Sickbay, where the Doctor relieves her of duty on medical grounds and prescribes a course of antidepressants, anti-psychotics and counselling. He suggests Vulcan meditations, but she can’t bear to be alone with Tuvok, so Chakotay learns some of the basic techniques and when she’s released to her quarters, he meditates with her as often as he can.
She tells him it helps, and it does; she tells him she’s getting better, and she is. She begins to show an interest in the ship, the crew; she asks him for reports and he brings her armfuls of PADDs. It takes some time, but she eventually allows a visit from Tuvok, and soon after she ventures to the mess hall for a meal and manages to sit at a table talking with Neelix. Some time after that she returns to the bridge, and Chakotay smiles as he transfers back her command codes.
You’re going to have to live with this, Captain, she hears Tuvix murmur, but only in her memory.
And she does.
Kathryn blinks into awareness to find Ensign Paris crouching beside her holding a tricorder. “You’re awake,” he says, sounding pleased.
“Tom.” She clears her throat, pulls herself upright, her arms around her knees. “How long this time?”
“About four hours.”
She shakes her head; it had felt like months, but she’s given up trying to make sense of the passage of time during the kiaa’meral. “I can’t say I’m sorry that session is over.”
“Want to tell me about it?” Tom flips the tricorder closed and places it on the floor, resting his folded arms on the side of the tub. She hesitates, and he says, “No pressure, Captain. But I’m a pretty good listener, and I can keep my mouth shut.”
“It was about Tuvix,” she blurts before she can second-guess herself. “The way I reacted after I ki- after I performed the separation. In the scenario I saw, I let the guilt of it devastate me. I couldn’t function, and I …” She meets his gaze. “I became clinically depressed. I wouldn’t leave my quarters, and the Doctor had to intervene with medication.”
“But that’s not what really happened,” he says, and she realises it’s half a question.
“No,” she assures him. “It was very difficult, don’t misunderstand me. I re-examined my decision for a long time. But I couldn’t indulge myself in feelings of guilt and remorse. I had a responsibility to the crew.”
He watches her for a few moments, then says mildly, “The thing about guilt is, it can come back to bite you when you least expect it. Even when you think you’ve put the demons to rest.”
She looks at him, consideringly. “Yes, it does. I suppose we both know that.”
“I won’t lie to you, Captain,” Tom says softly. “Nothing you’ll ever do will make up for that one single choice you made. You’ll bear that guilt forever and it may never get any easier. The thing is, it’s not supposed to get easier. It’s just supposed to weigh into all of the choices you make afterwards.”
She takes that in, and she can’t help smiling at him. “When did you get so wise, Ensign?”
He grins. “Captain, please. I have a reputation to uphold.”
Kathryn laughs, then squeezes his hand impulsively. “Tom, in case you ever have cause to doubt it,” she pauses to brush her gaze over the single pip on his collar, “I’m proud of you. And thank you.”
She shrugs. “For being a good listener.”
“Anytime, Captain,” he says softly.
She watches him leave, and the Kh’Laan melt back into the room.