Self-control. The woman even had it in her sleep. Her nightly routine would start with a moan, like a pained expression of air across pursed and quivering lips. Then, it would stop. Next came the rustle of sheets, not soft whispers but scratchy, sudden pulling as her legs seemed almost like they were running. Then came the thud, a firm hand on the mattress to corral her errant limbs. And then, it would stop. Occasionally she would cycle through again, but this happened rarely before she woke herself with a scream, a short, shrill burst that morphed into a clearing of her throat. The covers would shift, feet meet the floor and the dull hiss of the bedroom door signaled her departure into wakefulness.
The process had been going on since the accident—since she'd read the report. They had parted ways after an evening dinner during which she had been distractible and withdrawn, and he'd awoken at 3:18am with the scream echoing through a shared wall. As the Doctor's mental health declined, hers did in tandem. It had seemed as though she was working out the odds and the risks and the possible scenarios with him, and they both were failing. After a week of no sleep she was completely run ragged. He could see the ghosts in her eyes and decided he had to act.
Before he was able to pull her aside, the choice was made.
"I won't sit here and argue sentience with any of you. The Doctor is our comrade and our friend. None of us can deny that." She paced the conference room, rubbing at a spot in her neck. "We won't make the rest of this trip without him, and this feedback loop has created an impossible problem in his and our paths. If we can't solve the problem, we must eliminate it."
Neelix leaned forward. "You're not seriously saying we delete his program?"
The Captain quickly shook her head. "Not at all." She slowly eased herself into her seat while Chakotay took notice of the care she was giving her back. The lack of sleep was clearly wreaking havoc on her musculature. "I'm suggesting that we know what caused this loop, so the easiest thing to do—the most sensible thing to do-would be to remove his memory of the events leading up to the attack." She noticed a few people about to object and held up her hands. "Forgive me, I'm not saying this plainly. B'Elanna, I want you to erase the attack on the shuttle and every memory that the Doctor has of Ensign Jetal."
"But Captain," Harry objected. "Isn't that an insult to her memory? She was a beautiful and loving friend. How can we just erase her?"
"What else would you have me do?" she wondered, shrugging her shoulders in defeat. "We all cared a great deal for Jetal, and the Doctor did as well. That being said, her memory is degrading his ability to function." Her voice caught when she continued speaking. "If you or I'd lived through what the Doctor did…" She seemed to get lost for a moment and then reigned herself back in. "I'm sure years would be required to cope with such a tragedy. We don't have years, and we need our Doctor back. B'Elanna?"
With a slight nod, the engineer agreed, and within a day the Doctor was back to his regular self. The captain, however, was not.
The chime caught her off guard even though she thought she knew who it was. She set down the PADD and coffee cup and gathered her robe a little closer before bidding her early morning visitor entrance. Sure enough, the door opened to reveal a sheepish looking Chakotay who walked in slowly. He was still in his pajamas, a loose, comfortable black pant with a white undershirt.
"You're up awfully early, Commander," the captain addressed him. "Or perhaps, you're still up very late. Either way, what can I help you with?" As she spoke, he came closer and sat down opposite her in one of the chairs, his body perched awkwardly, leaning slightly forward. "Is everything okay?" she asked quickly before he spoke.
"No, Kathryn." He made sure to clearly emphasize her name and his intention that this was not ship's business. "Humans can't expunge memories, can they?"
"No—I mean…" she stammered, surprised by his forthrightness. "This is about the Doctor?"
"Are you going to be okay, Kathryn?" he asked bluntly, adding, "You haven't had decent sleep in over a week, and I'm concerned." He watched her understanding sink into the deep lines on her forehead as she let out an inaudible sigh that looked as though it did no good to relax her.
"Thank you for your concern." She sounded about as cool and collected as she could be. "I will be just fine. I'm sorry my sleeping habits have been disturbing you."
"It's not that they're disturbing me, Kathryn," he interrupted. "They are, but every day you seem to be wrestling with some new ghosts, and I'm not sure how to help you." He noticed her eyes glaze over at the word 'ghosts'. "Talk to me, Kathryn."
She rose to her feet, fleeing the uncomfortable tension while she held her robe tightly around herself. "I buried my ghosts years ago," came a far-off response. "Just not as thoroughly as I thought I had." He stood and walked as close to her as propriety would allow, daring to lay a warm hand on her shoulder.
"I'd like to help, if you'd let me," he offered, ever so gently kneading the sore muscles under his hand.
She half-smiled up at him and then slowly shook her head. "I had to make the same decision the Doctor did once." She breathed deeply for courage and pressed on. "I didn't have logic and algorithms and a program in my head telling me the more sound decision like the Doctor did. If I had, I may have handled my own recovery from their loss in a much more dignified manner."
His subtle massaging of her shoulder paused for a moment while he absorbed the gravity of her admission, and then. "Would you like to talk about it?"
She stepped away from his hand, placing space back between them. "I have talked, for years." She sounded like she was trying to convince herself more than him. "Thank you, but this is something I've already worked through. This time I'll be okay."
The finality in her voice told him that his visit was over, and he headed for the door. Before he tripped the sensors, he looked back at her. "Humans can't expunge their memories, Kathryn. I have a sneaking suspicion that holograms can't either." And with that, he left.
He met her as she was coming around a corner headed back to her quarters. Though many people were taking turns sitting with the Doctor, she had taken the lead, and it was taking its toll.
"How's the Doc doing tonight?" he asked as they reached her door and she entered her code, stepping aside to allow him enter.
"He's going to be fine," she replied, grabbing a throw from the couch, wrapping herself in it and sitting down. He read the redness around her eyes and the extra rasp to her voice, and ordered them both a tea from the replicator. "I think the open space is giving him time to work through it." She took her tea gratefully, and he sat down with her on the couch.
"And you?" he asked gently, meeting her eyes in a show of support. "How will you be?"
She gave him a true smile and took his hand. "It's amazing how you think a part of your life is resolved and how unprepared you are for the reality." She squeezed his hand and then, sensing a chill, pulled her blanket tighter and stifled a yawn. He instinctively pressed a hand to her forehead and cheeks, feeling a small fever and a blush covered by a gentle smile. "It's nothing a little rest won't cure," she reassured him, laying her head on the back of the couch. After about a minute of silence, he looked over and saw that she had fallen asleep and was shifting. He contemplated moving but before he could, he felt her head gently meet his shoulder. The welcome weight was short lived as moments later, after what he felt was a sigh, she jerked upright, took stock of her surroundings and her company, and stood abruptly. As the throw pooled at her feet, Chakotay failed to stifle a snicker.
"The famous Janeway self-control," he jeered, picking up the throw and draping it back over her shoulders. He offered her a quick wink and a peck on the cheek before chuckling his way out the door and to his quarters, leaving her staring in amazement after him.