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Captain Kathryn Janeway squared her shoulders, lifted her head, mentally packed away every disturbing moment from that afternoon and strode purposefully onto the bridge. Her bridge. She looked around at the faces of her team, not one of them could meet her eyes. They all turned away. Some to study a screen in front of them, others a piece of the floor that had suddenly become extremely interesting.

She couldn’t tell if it was because they couldn’t face what she’d done or couldn’t face themselves and their part in it. Their complicity. She hoped like hell it was the latter, she could do something about that.

She was about to descend onto the lower level, but she paused there in front of the turbo lift.

“All stop,” she commanded loud and clear.

There were a few mumbled “yes Ma’am’s,” Ayala and Tom exchanged glances.

She rubbed her temples warily and took a deep breath. She could see herself telling them schoolmarm style “all eyes on me”. But she knew that was going too far. She settled for the more grown-up version. “If I could have everyone’s attention for a moment.” She said her voice somehow firm and even. She waited serenely until every head had swivelled in her direction.

“What happened here today was difficult for all of us. Tuvix had become a friend to many of you, but there came a point where a decision had to be made whether to save the lives of our colleagues or to embrace Mr Tuvix and bid our old friend farewell. I chose the former and whether any of you had objected or not. Whether you thought that was right or wrong. That decision was not yours. As Captain I take full responsibility for that, it is not a burden that any of you should consider carrying even for a second. I’m sorry you had to witness such a traumatic sequence of events. But you all heard Mr Tuvix say he forgave you so it’s best if accept that forgiveness and move on. As you were.”

A few of them nodded her way before turning away perhaps they had appreciated her words. Some still wouldn’t look at her. She sat down ever so precisely in her chair beside Chakotay and issued commands for their onward journey. Internally counting the minutes until she could reasonably make an exit and leave things in Chakotay’s capable hands. She didn’t look at him. He seemed to have no interest in gaining her attention either. No nod of acknowledgement, no affirming smile (well none that she could see out of the corner of her eye). Eventually she determined an appropriate amount of time had elapsed for her to escape to the ready room. Only then did she risk a peak at her first officer as she handed over command. He remained stoic, passionless, giving away nothing of what he thought of the storm that had just engulfed them.

She wanted to run off that bridge. Instead she took careful measured steps until she finally made it inside the safety of her ready room.

She walked in the room and slammed a padd so hard on the desk it’s screen shattered. She turned and looked at the very spot on her couch where she’d been sitting some hours before debating whether to go through with the procedure. She stood there motionless in the centre of the room wanting to scream, wanting to cry but most of all wanting to feel nothing.

Tuvix’s words rang in her ears ‘execution, murder’. The Doctor’s judgmental visage flashed before her mind’s eye. “Judged by a computer program that’s a new low even for you Janeway,” she chastised herself.

She thought about Tuvix pleading for his life, the way he had forced her to confront him in front of everyone, the stony-faced way she performed the reversal as if she didn’t give a damn. She clutched at her stomach as it heaved violently within her. She'd killed someone. It wasn't an accident. It wasn't in combat. It was a calculated decision exacted by her own hand. It would be a long time before she'd be able to look herself in the eye again. She thought about the conversation she’d had with Kes about Mark, about how much she missed him. No. How much she ought to miss him right now, how one of his hugs used to make her feel like everything was alright that her world wasn’t spinning out of control. But oddly she found it wasn’t his comfort she wanted nor needed right now, she longed for something closer, something more tangible, more present.

The door chime startled her. "Just a moment." She said, before deftly stepping behind her desk creating a natural barrier between herself and whoever was at the door. She reached for the broken padd in an attempt to look busy forgetting about the cracked glass and cutting her finger in the process. She quickly sucked on her fingers the last thing she wanted was for someone to walk in here and see her with literal blood on her hands.

The door chimed again "Come," she said wearily.

Chakotay stepped across the threshold and waited for the door to swish closed behind him.

"Something I can help you with Commander?" She said coldly. Looking past him to the stars streaking by outside.

"I thought you might want to talk." He said softly.

"There's nothing to talk about." She said abruptly, "so if you'll kindly leave me alone, I’ve got work to do".
"That was quite a speech you gave out there."
"Was it? Well thank you for your appraisal I’ll be sure to keep that in mind.” She said and motioned for him to leave.

He stood resolutely in front of her desk.

"I don’t believe half of what you said." Janeway felt the blood pounding in her ears, she took a deep breath, nostrils flaring as she battled to control herself.

"Are you calling me a liar Commander? Because after the day I've had and the lack of support I’ve experienced from this crew I’d choose my next words very carefully if I were you."

"No. I'm not calling you a liar.” He said softly. There was no condemnation in his voice, not a trace, “All I meant is I’ve been in command, and I know a ‘rallying the troops’ speech when I hear one. I also know that while you'd like us to think you're fine with what happened today, that you're ok. That might not necessarily be the case. I just wanted to see if you were alright."

“I’m the Captain of course I’m alright. It’s my job to be alright.” She forced a smile willing him to believe nothing was wrong, that he could go and leave her alone… to return to her self-loathing.

“I know it’s your job, but you're still human and that was…”

“And that was one of the toughest calls I’ve ever had to make. You disagree with my choice, don’t you?” She said matter-of-factly.

“I didn’t say that.”

“No. You didn’t. In fact, as I recall, you didn’t say much of anything. Exactly what was that stony silence meant to be Commander?”

She rose and turned away from him. The silence from everyone on the bridge had been difficult but his had left her doubting herself, she quickly continued talking not yet ready to hear his point of view, the criticism she was certain was coming.

“Do you know he tried to put Kes in the middle of all this to use her to change my mind?”

“That’s grubby.”

“It sure was. And that was the very thing that galvanised my decision. Trying to manipulate me is one this but using another vulnerable crew member to do it.” She thumped her hands down on the desk. “Not on my watch. But that silence… I felt so alone, so judged.”

She turned to him now. Vulnerable, hurting.

“Hey.” He said gently. “No one’s judging you or blaming you. It was an impossible choice.”

“Oh believe me I know just how impossible that choice was. I’m the one that had to make it, remember? And if that wasn't judgement, why did you stay so silent Commander Chakotay? I needed to know you were with me that you had my back."

“I thought it was better to stay quiet, to keep things calm. I felt like stepping in might have undermined your authority somehow or that speaking out would have escalated his behaviour I… I didn’t want him to hurt someone, hurt you. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to make that clear at the time.”

“Oh…” She breathed. “Makes sense,” she mumbled, the words catching in her throat as she considered his tenderness, feeling it caress that aching need within for solace.
She opened her mouth ready to continue but hesitated a moment, her anger had deflated in the face of his kindness, but she was still at war with herself as to whether she should unburden herself on her second. All at once she spoke, the words tumbling out desperate to exist, desperate to be heard.

“Since you’re here there is something I want to, no… I need to talk about.” She said looking at the ground unable to face him all the while wondering when she had come to care so much for his opinion.

"When I got to sickbay The Doctor refused to act."

Chakotay looked at her in confusion.

"What?! Then how was the procedure performed."

She swallowed hard working up the courage to enunciate her despicable actions. Hoping it wouldn’t damage his opinion of her.

“I did it. I gave Tuvix the injection. Then performed the transfer. The Doctor refused on the grounds that he could do no harm, but I just forged ahead. What does that make me? A murderer? Are you happy serving under the command of someone like that?” She spat the words out bile laced barbs intended for one purpose. To hurt. To wound her own personhood so that her sense of self matched the all-consuming shame she felt inside.

He regarded his Captain. Eyes brimming with tears. Mouth contorted trying not to release a cry from within.

“I took a life today. One that had done no wrong. Except that he existed in an inconvenient place, a place that was once occupied by someone else. Someone very dear to me. I made a decision that took away his choice to act for himself. I condemned him to death. And if that wasn’t enough it was these hands…”

She held them up and he could see now that they were shaking.

“My hands that snatched away his existence. “

The tears that had filled her eyes had finally overflowed their banks and spilled down her cheeks. She started to turn away embarrassed to let her second in command see her cry.

Chakotay regarded her shaking hands and broken expression. He took a deep breath. It felt a little awkward but, in that moment, watching her suffer it was all he could think to do. He took her two trembling hands in his and pulled her back towards him. He felt as though he’d crossed some unwritten boundary between them but at the same time the enormity of what had happened, of what she was feeling demanded it. He thought for a moment she might flinch or withdraw but she didn’t, she let her first officer hold her cold, trembling, murderous hands in his. Hands she thought might never be worthy to be held again.

“These hands,” he said squeezing warmth and life into her “are not the hands of some coldblooded killer. They are the hands of someone who thinks deeply, who deliberates carefully, who daily considers the needs of those around her and rarely considers herself. These are and will be for as long as she’ll allow me to serve her, the hands of my Captain.”

He sought out her gaze and looked deeply into her tortured blue eyes so he would know just how sincere he was.

She wondered at the man in front of her how he could see her at her absolute worst and still believe in her. She felt the shame that swirled about her like a cloak begin to dissipate as she listened to his words and looked in his deep brown eyes and found not the judgement, she’d feared but absolution and understanding.

In his heart Chakotay vowed never to let her carry a burden like this on her own again. It hurt to watch her suffer alone so needlessly. If he could help her, he would, if actions were needed, he would take them, if words should be spoken, he would offer them.

She pulled her hands away, feeling life flowing back through her veins.

“Thank you, Commander,” she said, “you have no idea how deeply I appreciate your perspective.”

He smiled warmly as he left her alone with her considerably lightened thoughts.

As the door closed, she breathed out heavily, embracing the sense of relief that had enveloped her, the equilibrium his perspective had brought her. She found herself wondering who was this man that providence had given her as a second in command and what on Earth had she done to deserve him. She rubbed her hands where he had held them and judiciously ignored the parts of her mind that were just beginning to wonder if the feel of his arms would be more soothing than Marks. She smiled to herself and bit her bottom lip. “Put it away Kathryn” she chided herself “Maybe someday you’ll get an answer to that question but not today, NOT today.”