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They contacted her late at night, alone in her quarters. Said she had 24 hours to come up with her answer. She asked what would happen if she rejected, of course she did. They gave her a demonstration of their power. It was so unimaginably great that for the first time as a captain she was out of options.

There was only one left. To give them exactly what they wanted.

She paced, she raged, she even cried a few tactical tears. Nothing would move them.

She asked why, trying to find a reason. It would have been easier to accept with a reason. But there was none. They remained quiet in their looming powerful threat.

She pleaded, to take her instead of him. She knew it was unfair, as he then would have to live without her and it would destroy him. But she could not imagine a life without him either.

Not ever, not now. Not when she finally had accepted the inevitable and given herself to him.

These past months had seemed like a dance on a volcano. Every single encounter between them felt like it might be the last. Because she’d known a day like this would come, yet it came too soon.

But she could not deny that she had never felt as alive. He made her whole in a way nobody else ever had. Hadn’t it been worth the trouble, despite being brief? And another voice in her head whispered that she had waited too long.

She’d ordered him on dangerous missions before. He could have died on that Malon ship, as full with radiation as it was. But if he hadn’t gone they all would have died. He never questioned her order. He just nodded and went.

She tried to tell herself this wasn’t any different. But it was. This time he would not just end up in sickbay. This time she would order him to his death. And they both would know it.

She was not allowed to contact anyone else for a second opinion. They said they’d know, and she didn’t doubt it. Then again, she wouldn’t have wanted to put this kind of burden on anyone else. It was her decision to make, hers alone.

Plus she knew what Tuvok and Seven would say anyway. The mathematics was simple. One man or the whole ship.

The Needs of the Many Outweigh the Needs of the Few.

Without him, she knew she would be lost like a ship in the dark without the guiding light of the lighthouse. She could already feel the darkness creeping up on her. It made her shudder. Losing him felt like ripping herself apart.

She wondered how she would survive this. The future, which she always had denied herself to look at with even the slightest hope, was now shattered into a thousand pieces. And from each of the shards her own face was staring back at her.

And the faces of her crew. From Tuvok she had learnt about the crew’s strong reaction when Chakotay and her had to be left behind on New Earth. What would they think about this? Would they doubt her, wondering why she hadn’t fought harder? Would they ever follow her lead again? Would she lose every single one of them as well, despite her best intentions to save them?

She didn’t sleep that night.

She would probably never sleep again.

*****

When the lights grew brighter in her quarters and indicated that morning finally had arrived she went to tell him. She found him still in his sleeping shirt, wiping the last of his dreams from his eyes. He took the news with his usual calm demeanour and despite her looking closely for a reaction she couldn’t find any.

She thought he must have not heard what she was telling him, so she reiterated what she just had said, impatience growing in her. Why wouldn’t he say anything?

But he just looked at her, for a long time. After searching for something in her eyes, he gave her one of his imperceptible nods, understanding that she wouldn’t ask this sacrifice of him if she hadn’t exhausted every other option. Kathryn Janeway prided herself in always finding other options.

But not this time.

This was the last and final decision. So he saw no sense in questioning it.

As he had done thousands of times before. His trust in her was inexplicable.

But his lack of reaction, his quiet acceptance angered her. She’d rarely seen him lose his temper but if this wasn’t the time to feel rage then when was it?

She couldn’t take it any longer, so she raged on his behalf, and he tried to calm her. This was all so wrong, it was supposed to be her comforting him. But not even now was she able to say what he really needed to hear.

As always, he took the burden off her, with no regard for himself. She wondered if he was doing it on purpose, to make her angry at him, so it would be easier to let him go. He had pledged his devotion to her but she’d never realized how deep it really went.

When he held her in his arms she thought about all the arguments they’d had. It wasn’t often that he had felt reason to question a decision of hers but when he did she always had plenty of counter arguments ready. And in the end he had always relented.

All but one time.

One time he had not let her win because too much had been on stake. And it did feel indeed like losing. She didn’t like being told that she was wrong. And she had made sure it never happened again.

Was that why they were doing this? Taking him away from her, because she only would appreciate what she had once she’d lost it? Were they trying to teach her a lesson?

Lesson learned, she wanted to shout, but there was nobody listening.

Despite his strong arms engulfing her she’d never felt so lonely. It was as if he was already gone, only his ghost remaining.

He didn’t ask why either. He only asked how long he still had. There was a countdown now, the seconds of the rest of his life ticking by.

He had one request. He would come to her in the evening, for the last time. She knew she would not be able to enjoy it but this was not for her, it was for him.

It would be her penance.

 

The End