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The away mission hadn't been so intricate or dangerous that any one of Tuvok's security team couldn't handle it, and yet he'd felt compelled to personally be in the captain's own detail. And as everyone but Tuvok had expected, the difficulties were limited to some amusing mistranslations early on from a culture that, in Tuvok's estimation, were unnecessarily tactile.

Captain Janeway concluded the lengthy bargaining by securing some shore leave for her weary crew. After almost ten years in the Delta Quadrant, everyone aboard Voyager appreciated the rare opportunity.

Tuvok had chosen the location for his leave with extreme care. He sat quietly, eyes closed, listening to the sound of... silence. There were no klaxons blaring, no engines humming, no argumentative crew, no lovers' sighs, no words.  It was pleasing, yet oddly unsettling, to hear no sound.

The small platform that he'd constructed and had sent down to this protected area of the sandy desert gave him a wide vantage point. If he'd bothered to look around, he'd see no trees or grasses. Tuvok listened for the sounds of buzzing insects, calling birds and scurrying creatures, but they were conspicuous by their absence. He knew that he was completely alone. This isolation was a welcome change from the ‘closeness' of the mission, yet something was ‘off'.

The two suns hanging low in the horizon told him that the temperature would soon drop, but from his experiences from the past few days, he knew that the planet would still be very hot. Not too hot for him, but for the human who had joined him sporadically. Her presence had interfered with the serenity of his shore leave, he thought, as he quirked an eyebrow at the irony of the term used for his current location. The fact that he was irritated by her infrequent company was an interesting observation, but not enough for Tuvok to see the pattern that was emerging.

His captain, Kathryn Janeway, was one of his most valued acquaintances. He'd strongly encouraged her to find a suitable location for her R&R, knowing that she was also exhausted, and was pleased at the time, when she'd acquiesced to spend some time with him. Tuvok found, however, that her arrival had been merely an interruption to his solitude. She hadn't been completely prepared for the dry heat, and returned to Voyager only a few minutes later for some better sun and heat protection for her delicate, fair skin. 

Her parting words, said lightly, had struck a chord deep within him, and he wondered why. "Why didn't you tell me we were going to Vulcan?" she'd smiled, her waving hand encompassing the barren landscape.

Tuvok hadn't moved in the time she'd been gone, though his mind had travelled in several different directions. He was the oldest crew member, but still young for a Vulcan. His wife was waiting for him back home, as were children and grandchildren. He hoped. Until recently, he felt that he knew that they were alive and well, and that his connection with T'Pel was solid and enduring, and would flourish for many years after his return.

Breathing deeply, Tuvok filled his lungs with the hot, dry air that surrounded him, and he felt his heart grow heavy. He was no longer certain of their safety. He was no longer unquestioning about T'Pel's ability to persevere in his absence. He no longer knew without a doubt that Captain Janeway would get him home.

Worry and self-doubt were long repressed processes in a Vulcan, and Tuvok did not welcome their re-emergence. Nor did he particularly welcome the reappearance of his captain only minutes later, laughing in a self-deprecating way and joking about the EMH-sanctioned gear that she'd conveniently ‘forgotten' on her first beam down.

Tuvok tensed his jaw, forcing himself to remain calm. What was it about humans, and particularly human females, and their need to fill time and silence with words? Unbidden, a deep sigh emerged, and he noted that Janeway's seemingly incessant chatter slowed.

"Is something wrong, Tuvok? Are you all right?"

In his mind, Tuvok understood that her questions came from concern for his well-being. Something irrational inside him, however, was aggravated by the repetitive nature of her words, and Tuvok again experienced the sensation of feeling ill at ease.

Before answering, Tuvok considered his current state. Physically, he felt fine. He exercised regularly, was assessed by the doctor when necessary, ate as well as could be expected with Neelix in charge, and slept according to his body's natural rhythms.  His current fatigue was surely just a result of this mission.

Mentally? He attempted to assess his work performance. Tuvok knew that he'd done an exemplary job in the past, and for some reason that pleased him. A look of dismay flashed across his features, though, as Tuvok remembered two recent incidents that had left him feeling almost angry. Those errant crewmen had accused him of bias, and unfairness...

This led him to wonder how he was emotionally. Tuvok readily admitted to himself that he was looking forward to this unique opportunity to spend time on a planet that was so much like his home world. He wanted to be alone. He wanted to be carefree. He wanted to be home.

Tuvok realized something was wrong. His annoyance, his concern for his family, his irritation at minor quirks that normally would have been barely noticed...

 Jerking away from the cool, slight hand that was placed on his arm, Tuvok drew back.

"I'm sorry; I didn't mean to startle you..." Janeway began, concern etched upon her face.

Tuvok noted her look and the tone of her voice, and actually felt her concern for him. He was truly touched by it.

And suddenly, he understood.

"Captain Janeway, I need to return to the ship. I must see the doctor immediately."

==/==

"How is he, Doctor?" Janeway stared through the glass office walls of the EMH.

"He's not well. His neurological condition is affecting his ability to think clearly, and to control his emotions."

Tilting her head to one side, Janeway nodded slightly at Tuvok. "Does he know?"

"Most certainly!" the doctor replied, almost indignantly. "In fact, Tuvok told me the diagnosis upon his arrival; I merely confirmed it. He is fully aware of his current state of health. We've already investigated the options for treatment aboard this ship, but they're inadequate. I'm sorry, Captain."

==/==

The room was dark, with only a few lighted candles centered on a small table under a viewport. Janeway stepped in enough to let the doors close behind her, allowing her eyes time to adjust to the darkness before venturing in.

"Thank you for coming. My mind is clear tonight. I wish to speak with you."

Kathryn moved forward and sat down on one of the large pillows that ringed the low table.

"How are you, old friend?" she smiled crookedly across the table.

Tuvok nodded slightly, and reached across the table to take her hand in his.

"I know that it offers you comfort to touch, and so I do this for you."

A sad smile crossed Janeway's face, and she blinked several times. "I've missed you."

"I regret that I do not miss you, as I am unaware of the passing of time. Tell me how long we have been in the Delta Quadrant."

"Eighteen years and a few months."

"Then it has been several months since we last spoke."

Janeway's voice was tinged with sadness. "Like this."

"Yes, like this. Are you well?"

Janeway looked sad. "Voyager was heavily damaged a few weeks ago. We lost 3 more crewmen.  Several gel-packs, a holodeck and some crew quarters were destroyed but we're still en route to Earth.  Morale is a bit low."

"I see" Tuvok replied evenly, "that you continue to respond to personal questions in terms of those you lead."

Shrugging, Janeway looked away, embarrassed. "It's one in the same. You understand?"

"I do, for a Vulcan. But I do not believe it to be the same for a human."

Janeway rubbed the back of her neck and sat up straighter. "I will be well when I get this crew home, Tuvok. Nothing else matters."

Tuvok looked at his friend intently. "It is unfortunate that you have not yet been successful despite your strong leadership. I wish I could assist you."

Another sad smile. "Thank you. Your support means a lot to me."

"As does yours to me. It is no small comfort to me to know that you continue to be my friend, and you are there for me when I am able to be yours."

"I will always be here for you, Tuvok," Janeway said, with determination.

"I am glad. I will endeavour to be here for you, in any way that I am able. I am pleased that others support you when I am not. Are the bridge staff well?"

She'd hoped he wouldn't ask. This would be the third time she'd explain that Seven had died, that Chakotay was a lost and broken man, that Harry, Tom and B'Elanna had lost their zeal to continue the journey and were willing to settle down in the Delta Quadrant.

She dreaded the day when she'd lose their support entirely and have to either leave them behind, or stay in the Delta Quadrant with them, unable to power Voyager with the few crew who would choose to continue on. She couldn't bear to talk about it. She could barely admit her failure to herself, much less to have it analysed by her only remaining friend. He was mad, his thinking unclear and illogical. He was out of context, out of time. And the more he spoke of his loyalty to her, and of her loyal crew, the more isolated and determined she felt.

She would get this crew home. She didn't know exactly how or when, but she simply had no choice. She owed it to herself, as much as she owed it to Tuvok and the rest of the crew.

==/==   ==/==   ==/==

Captain Janeway stared at herself on the viewscreen.

"I've come to bring Voyager home," her own, older voice had said.

==/==

Admiral Janeway had made an impassioned speech to the senior staff, imploring them to break the Temporal Prime Directive. No one but the captain knew about Seven and the other dead crewmen, of Tuvok's undiagnosed condition, or the length of time ahead for them in the Delta Quadrant, if their timeline followed that of the Admiral.

"Tell me what you think of this whole situation, Tuvok." Captain Janeway‘s voice was flat and unemotional. "I need your unbiased assessment of this whole situation."

 "She is determined and believes her plan is sound. I think she is not motivated by selfish concerns. The Kathryn Janeway that I know would not act without consideration of the implications."

"This seems pretty selfish to me."

"For you, yes, but not for her. She will die so you can live to lead your crew home. "

Janeway scrutinized Tuvok's face. "The good of the many..."

"Yes. The crew will follow her without question, because she is you. They trust you to lead them through almost certain death, as you have done before. They will support you without reservation, because you will not accept failure."

Janeway stared out the viewport for several minutes, and then turned back to Tuvok. "You really think so." It was not a question.

"I state the truth. I count myself lucky to have served with you, and have always known that you would get me - us - home."

Janeway nodded, unable to speak past the lump in her throat. She was lucky to count Tuvok among her dearest friends. His words had extinguished any remaining doubt she had about the rightness of the Admiral's plan.

Smiling, she placed her hand lightly on Tuvok's shoulder. He understood her need for physical contact, and tolerated the gentle touch.

"Thank you, old friend. Come on. Let's do it."

==/==



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