As the door whispered shut behind him, his face still an emotionless mask, Chakotay spoke in a clear, precise voice into the empty office.
"Computer, initiate sound dampeners on this room. Engage level one privacy lock. Authority Chakotay 4 alpha."
Then, and only then, did he finally allow his fašade of coldness to shatter.
Like a glacier thawed by an atomic explosion, Chakotay's expression instantly melted, the harsh planes of his face disintegrating as grief and rage ravaged his features until they were barely recognisable.
His right arm shot out and swept the contents off his desk. Data padds crashed to the floor, the cacophony of their breaking an eerie echo of the destruction of his own heart.
"DAMN YOU TO HELL TOM PARIS!" he screamed as he sank to his knees in the debris, hugging himself as though the pain inside his chest could be physically contained.
"What the hell happened to you, Tom?" Harry demanded. "And why were you just sitting here in the dark?"
Responding to Tom's desperate hail, Harry had let himself into Tom's quarters to find the room in pitch darkness. He had called for lights, only to find the pilot huddled up in the corner of the couch. His pale, blotchy face swollen by tears, he was curled in a protective ball, his right arm cradled to his stomach.
Harry stepped forwards in angry concern, only for Tom to flinch then sob, as though his own movement had pained him.
It was only then that Harry saw the angry red swelling around Tom's right wrist.
"What did you do to your arm, Tom?" he asked, even as Tom's miserable features told their own answer.
"*He* did this, didn't he?" Harry accused.
Tom just turned his head away in shame.
"Fuck Tom. I *told* you not to go see him. Let me look at your arm," Harry demanded
Tom gingerly extended the swollen limb, wincing with pain as Harry ran gentle fingers over the hot flesh.
"Why the hell didn't you go to sickbay? It's broken. He's broken your fucking wrist."
"I didn't want anyone to know," Tom whispered. "But I can't fix it myself. I tried but it hurt too much. That's why I called you."
"Oh, yeah, right. Just call good old Harry. He won't tell anyone that your *boyfriend* beat you up. Harry's always here to pick up the pieces, isn't he?" Harry snarled, as he picked up Tom's discarded bone-knitter and began to repair the damage.
"Not that Harry's *advice* is worth listening to, of course," Harry continued as he worked, tears of his own beginning to run down his face. "Not that you give a fuck about the fact that Harry is the *only* person who actually gives a shit about you."
"Please don't, Harry," Tom begged. "Don't cry. I'm sorry."
"You're sorry. Yeah, right Tom. And tomorrow, or the day after you'll do it again, won't you? You'll keep banging your head against that brick wall otherwise known as Chakotay, until he either kills you or breaks your heart."
"Too late for that," Tom whispered.
"I know," Harry answered in a gentler voice.
"He hates me, Harry. He was so cold, he was arctic. He said I was nothing more than a cheap slut. I told him the truth, Haz. I told him everything. I even, even told him I, I loved him."
"Do you, Tom?" Harry demanded suddenly, his face stilling into an expressionless mask. "Do you *really* love him?"
"I don't know," Tom wailed. "I hate him. I want him. I need him. I can't breathe without him. He fills my head. His face never leaves my thoughts. I *ache*, Harry. My whole body aches for him. I can't think, I can't, oh shit, I don't know what I'm trying to say. He just consumes me, like fire, and it burns, and it hurts and I hate it, and I hate him, and I can't live without him. And I'm so angry I want to explode. Only I'm so sad I want to curl up and die. Is *that* love?" Tom demanded hysterically.
Harry just gazed at Tom for a long time, his own dark eyes blazing, then he dropped his face towards his lap.
"Yeah, that's love," Harry whispered, so miserably that it cut through Tom's own self-pity like a sharp blade.
"Is this what you feel? Is this what I make you feel?" Tom demanded guiltily, as realisation finally struck him.
Harry gave a choking sob, rising to stride across the room and rest his forehead on the doorjamb.
"Yeah," he finally replied. "You're my life, Tom. You consume *me*," he confessed bitterly.
He suddenly turned to face Tom, who had risen in concern.
"And you know the difference between me and your precious Chakotay?" he spat.
Tom just stared at him helplessly, his blue eyes filled with torment.
"I love *you*, Tom. I don't have to fantasize that you fit some ideal. I love you as you are. I don't care if you lie, or cheat, or deceive me. I don't expect you to change for me. I don't need you to fit some pre-ordained ideal."
"Harry, don't," Tom begged.
"Don't what? Tell the truth? That it's killing me to see you break your heart over him when he doesn't deserve you?"
"You're wrong, Harry. It's me who doesn't deserve *him*. He's a good man. I lied to him, I used him. And when I realised that I loved him, it was too late. I've hurt him so much that he'll never forgive me."
"Maybe so," Harry answered. "But that's the difference between me and Chakotay, Tom. *I'll* always forgive you."
"Shit, Harry. I'm sorry," Tom sobbed. "I'm so sorry."
"Come here," Harry whispered, opening his arms, walking forwards and enfolding them around Tom's shaking frame.
"Don't feel bad, Tom. It's not your fault. You can't help who you fall in love with. I should know," he laughed bitterly. "Love's like a disease, only there's no easy cure. You just get sicker and sicker until you either get what you want or you give up, or you start to hate."
"Do you hate me, Harry?" Tom asked in a small, frightened voice.
"Yeah, a little, I guess," Harry admitted. "But I love you more. You get used to the pain. It becomes a part of you. You learn to compromise, take what you can get, treasure the little things, pretend the bad things don't happen."
Tom digested his words miserably. His own pain was only bearable because he knew he deserved it. But what had Harry ever done to deserve *his* pain? Nothing, except make the same mistake that Chakotay had done. Fall in love with him, Tom Paris, scum of the known universe. Except, in the event, Chakotay was obviously smarter than Harry because he, at least, had eventually wised up.
And that's when Tom knew what he had to do.
"You wanna fuck me, Harry?" he offered tentatively.
"Yeah," Harry laughed ruefully. "You know I do."
"Okay," Tom said.
"You mean it?" Harry asked in complete surprise.
"Yeah," Tom said, wiping at his eyes. "I'd like that."
"Shit, Tom," Harry laughed miserably. "You are such a good liar."
Tom glanced at him nervously.
"Is that a no?" he asked.
"I'm not *that* desperate, Tom," Harry protested. "Talk about a mercy fuck."
"Shit, Harry, I didn't mean to –"
"I know what you meant, Tom. And yeah, to tell the truth, I guess I *am* that desperate," Harry suddenly confessed.
Tom squeezed him tightly, confused by the change of mind.
"I *do* love you, Haz," he said.
"I know, Tom. Just not enough," Harry said.
Tom nodded miserably.
"So you want to come to bed anyway?" Tom asked.
"Sure, Tom," Harry agreed. "I'd like that."
On his hands and knees in the middle of his mattress, his head hanging between his trembling arms, Tom shuddered as Harry settled himself between his legs and ran rough, possessive palms over Tom's thighs and butt.
"Harry," Tom said urgently.
"Oh, yeah baby," Harry purred as he ran his excited fingers down Tom's flanks, delighted by the way that Tom was trembling with excitement. He was going to make this so good, so wonderful, that Tom would forget that he had ever imagined that anyone else could love him like Harry did.
"HARRY!" Tom almost shouted, as Harry continued to ignore him.
Tom was loath to actually leap up and knock Harry off him, but he could feel the panic building inside him as Harry prepared to touch what Tom suddenly knew, with blinding clarity, was Chakotay's alone .
"TOM!" Harry exclaimed back passionately, pushing his slick index finger between the cleft of Tom's ass cheeks and teasing at the dark promise within.
Tom yelped and scrambled up the bed in panic, leaving Harry abandoned and dumbfounded at its foot.
"Tom?" Harry queried carefully, as Tom crouched at the head of the bed, his blue eyes swirling with guilty panic.
"Harry, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I made a mistake. A huge mistake," Tom gasped.
"I know you did, Tom, but that's okay. Harry's here now. Harry's going to take all the pain away. Harry's going to make you feel better," Harry soothed, beginning to shuffle forwards.
Wild-eyed, Tom saw Harry advancing and for a moment, anger tinged his panic as he wondered whether Harry was deliberately misunderstanding him. But the look of complete adoration in Harry's eyes was unmistakable.
Tom felt sick.
This was his own fault. He had offered, he had led Harry on, and now he couldn't go through with it. He knew how much that hurt now and he dropped his eyes in shame.
"I'm sorry," he whispered. "I know I said yes, Haz. But I can't. I just can't. Please try to understand."
Harry bit his tongue, forcing his immediate wave of angry disappointment to recede before he responded.
"That's okay. Whatever you want Tom. I don't really mind if you want to fuck *me* instead," he lied.
"Oh, Shit, Haz," Tom cursed helplessly. "I don't want to fuck you," he confessed.
A huge relieved grin broke across Harry's face.
"I'm gonna make you feel SO good, Tom. When you find out what you've been missing you'll never think about *him* again," Harry promised.
It was too much for Tom. Despite his guilt, the depth of Harry's misunderstanding was too great to ignore. He scrambled off the bed, grabbing a sheet and wrapping it around his waist. Then he began to pace up and down like a caged animal.
"I don't WANT to forget about him, Harry. I LOVE him. I can't do this. It's wrong," Tom apologised.
Harry's eyes darkened with fury, yet he was careful to keep his voice soft and sorrowful as he replied.
"He doesn't love *you* though, does he? He hates you Tom. You lied to him and deceived him, and he hates you. How many of your bones does he have to break before you realise that he never loved you anyway?"
"Yes he did," Tom sobbed. "He told me he did."
"He thought he loved you because he didn't know you, Tom. Let's face it, no-one who *really* knows you has ever liked you very much, have they? They all turn on you in the end. They don't understand you like I do. They don't *love* you like I do.
"Forget Chakotay, Tom. As far as he's concerned you're just a lying little slut. But *I* love you. Let me show you how much. Stop wasting your time chasing after him. He'll never love you like I do, Tom. *No one* will ever love you like I do."
"I know," Tom muttered, hanging his head in misery.
Harry reached out his hand invitingly.
"Come back to bed, Tom," he purred.
Tom took a tentative step forwards, his eyes almost blank from the pain of his empty, aching loneliness. Harry's evident adoration almost unmanned him. For a fleeting moment he asked himself why the hell he was even hesitating.
He loved Harry, kind of. Harry was sweet, attractive, fun. Harry was honest and good. And Harry loved him. Loved the *real* him. Harry didn't judge him or hurt him or confuse him. Harry didn't make him burn in the pitiless flames of passion, and surely he had been singed enough for a lifetime.
And yet, he couldn't do it.
He froze still a step away from Harry's inviting hand.
"I'm sorry, Harry. I think, um, I think it would be best if you left now."
Harry, who was now perched on the end of the bed, his cock rearing in eager anticipation, gave an almost comical jerk of outraged shock.
"Leave?" he choked. "You want me to LEAVE?"
Tom swallowed nervously.
"Yeah," he muttered guiltily.
Rage swept through Harry, bubbling just under the surface of his skin like pressurised lava.
Not rage at Tom, of course. He didn't blame Tom for his confusion. He'd *never* blamed Tom for any of his affairs.
To be perfectly honest, Harry didn't think Tom was responsible for any of his actions. For an intelligent man, Tom was one hell of a bimbo, in Harry's opinion. Tom had brains, but not one iota of plain common sense. He was immature and na´ve. He lived in an emotional fantasy world and was incapable of seeing the woods for the trees.
That Tom could stand there in front of his own devotion and still insist on being faithful to a man who wouldn't piss on him if he were on fire, proved that to Harry beyond doubt.
So although he'd never planned to do it, and he knew that Tom would be upset at first, Harry decided that for Tom's own good he was going to have to take off his kid-gloves and put his foot down before Tom really made a mess of his life.
"I'm not going anywhere, Tom," he drawled.
Tom jerked in shock. A nervous smile played around his lips as he took in the completely alien expression of vindictiveness on Harry's face.
"I said –" Tom began.
"I don't give a fuck what you said," Harry replied, his words all the more chilling for their quiet calmness. "Stop pissing about and get your ass back in this fucking bed."
For a moment, Tom's features were frozen in complete shock, then his cheeks blazed with color and his eyes narrowed into furious slits.
"Get the fuck out of here, Harry, before I say something I'll regret."
Harry just shrugged casually.
"Sure Tom, if that's what you want. I'll go."
He waited until Tom's shoulders slumped in relief before he continued.
"I should have reported Chakotay's assault on you immediately, anyway."
"What?" Tom demanded.
"Chakotay's assault. First Officers can't go around breaking people's wrists, Tom. Whatever the provocation. He's a dangerous man. First your jaw, then your arm, god only knows what he'll do next. The sooner he's in the brig, the safer we will all be."
"You can't, Harry," Tom gasped in horror.
Harry just smiled sweetly.
"But I can't leave you alone, knowing you aren't safe, can I? If you want me to go, then fine, I'll leave. The last thing I want to do is upset you. But I'm not risking anything happening to you while I'm gone."
"You *can't* report him, Harry. He'd just say *why* he hit me, and then everyone would know what I did. I'd end up in the brig. Is that what you want?" Tom said desperately.
"Of course not, Tom. Chakotay wouldn't dare say what you did to him. He'd be the laughing stock of the ship, wouldn't he? I mean, between Tuvok and Seska both turning out to be spies, the way you and the Captain showed him up when you were looking for the traitor, then the way the Captain pretended to be all over him then ended up with Tuvok and now you turning out to have used him all along, he wouldn't dare show his face out of his quarters ever again. No one will blame YOU Tom. They'll just say it was his own fault for being such a fool.
"This last week since people have realised you aren't together anymore there's been a queue of people at his door. No one ever really saw him as a sexual person before, but since he apparently managed to keep *you* satisfied for so long, everyone wants a taste of him. He's terrified people will find out the truth. He won't dare admit *why* he hurt you."
"Don't you remember how embarrassed he was after you flushed out Jonas and then told the whole crew what a dupe he'd been?" Harry asked.
"Yeah," Tom whispered brokenly.
"So you know I'm right, don't you? Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if he just got off Voyager on the next inhabitable planet. There's only just so much humiliation a man can face, Tom," Harry continued sadly.
"You can't tell anyone what I did, Harry. So you can't tell anyone what *he* did, either," Tom begged.
Harry considered thoughtfully.
"I don't know Tom. I can't trust you, can I, babe? You don't know what's best for you. I'd never forgive myself if he hurt you again."
"He won't hurt me , Harry, I swear," Tom insisted.
"Well, he wouldn't if you stayed away from him," Harry agreed. "But I can't trust you to do that, can I?"
"Yes you can," Tom promised desperately.
"I can't Tom. If you love him as much as you *say* you love him, you won't be able to leave him alone."
"Maybe I don't really love him, maybe I'm confused," Tom argued.
Harry smiled encouragingly, then let his face fall again.
"I don't believe you Tom. We're best friends. I know you'd hardly hurt *me* like this if you weren't still confused about your feelings for him. So I can't possibly just let you carry on making the same mistake. Unless,"
"Unless?" Tom repeated hopefully,
"Unless you're just playing with me?" Harry suggested. "Yeah, this was a joke, right? You're only pretending you want me to leave?"
Although the abject misery on Tom's pale face hurt him and he wanted to shiver in sympathy with the uncertain trembles that rippled through Tom's slim frame, Harry almost punched the air in triumph when Tom finally dipped his eyes and whispered.
"Sure, Haz. I was just joking."
"So, you really DO want me to fuck you, honey?" Harry demanded.
Tom's defeated "Yeah," was the sweetest sound that Harry had ever heard.
"Is this an official reprimand?" Chakotay asked coldly.
Kathryn rubbed her eyes tiredly. If she looked at Chakotay's granite face for one more second she had a feeling that she would slap him, if only to see shock on his face rather than the all too familiar camouflage of glacial indifference.
She took a deep breath and then a steadying sip of her coffee, and she almost regretted that she had ever brought the subject up.
"Chakotay, we're friends. I *thought* we were friends, at least. And while this most certainly is *not* an official reprimand, it probably should be. I have received numerous complaints about your attitude.
"The comments range from aloof and reserved to downright cold-blooded and indifferent. Everyone is concerned about you, Chakotay. They care. *I* care, and I can't bear to see you doing this to yourself. You never smile any more. You are so unapproachable that the lower ranks are terrified to share the bridge with you. You're the First Officer, Chakotay. The crew have to feel comfortable around you."
Chakotay stiffened, but if anything his expression only grew more remote, his eyes flat and dispassionate, his once generous lips frigid and harsh.
"If you believe I have been derelict in the performance of my duties," he grated.
"Not at all," she interrupted placatingly. "You are, and always have been, a perfect First Officer, Chakotay. I am not suggesting that you have done any less than your best professionally. You haven't missed a single shift and your command decisions have been impeccable. All I'm saying is that I already have a Vulcan senior officer, I don't need *another* one. Besides, as I have always maintained, out here we are alone. Voyager is not just a ship, it is a family and you were always its heart, Chakotay. The general morale is lower at the moment than it has ever been."
"Then perhaps you should be discussing this with your Morale Officer, Captain. I was not aware that emotional welfare was my responsibility," Chakotay replied cuttingly.
"The very fact that you just said that to me proves my point, Chakotay. You always cared. Your concern for each and every member of the crew was the one constant that everyone could rely on. You have, however, been cold and distant with everyone for months. Since you and Tom broke up, to be honest."
Chakotay flinched minutely at the mention of the pilot's name, his composed guise wavering, and Kathryn felt guilty. Not so much that she was willing to drop the subject however. Enough was enough, she had decided.
"My `relationship' with Tom Paris was a mistake," Chakotay snapped. "One I have considered at leisure and have concluded as being an incident I would rather not dwell on any longer. I would prefer it, Captain, if you would refrain from mentioning it again."
"I agree that the relationship was a mistake, Chakotay. I just wish you could both move on and put it behind you," she replied.
"I HAVE put it behind me," Chakotay growled.
"Which no doubt is why you haven't left your quarters on an evening for over four months?" Kathryn challenged.
"I prefer my own company," Chakotay replied quellingly. "I don't recall any Starfleet Regulation that requires me to spend my off-duty hours in pointless socialising. As a Senior Officer I am within my rights not to socialise with lower ranks."
"Since that excludes everyone on Voyager except myself, I think you are taking the point too far," Kathryn retaliated.
Chakotay just shrugged, his eyes as flat and cold as opaque glass.
"Crewman Johnson came to see me yesterday," Kathryn said, watching Chakotay's face for a reaction. He merely raised an eyebrow in an uncanny imitation of Tuvok.
"He said he came to you for counselling about whether he should continue to pursue a relationship with Crewman Harris, and you advised him it would be a better use of his time to learn a musical instrument."
"So?" Chakotay asked dispassionately.
"So he wanted an advance on his rations towards a cello," Kathryn laughed.
Chakotay just shrugged again, unmoved.
Kathryn's eyes narrowed. She had tried to keep the conversation light- hearted, but evidently it would take more than a bad joke to break through Chakotay's shell of indifference.
"B'Elanna came to see me yesterday too. She was concerned about Tom," she said.
At last she saw a flash of emotion deep within Chakotay's eyes. Granted it looked more like hate than concern, but still, it was an emotion.
"To be honest, I'm rather concerned about him myself," Kathryn continued. "He's a shadow of his former self. He never socialises anymore. He never jokes or laughs. He's become almost as ghost-like as you have."
"Well, as we both know, Paris doesn't respond well to being exclusive," Chakotay laughed coldly.
"He doesn't respond well to being with Harry," Kathryn snapped. "It's as though the life has been sucked out of him since Harry moved in with him."
"So?" Chakotay snapped. "What's this got to do with me? He made his choice. He chose Harry. He made his bed and now he has to lie in it."
"Don't you ever wonder *why* he's staying with Harry when he obviously is unhappy?" Kathryn demanded.
Although nobody had been surprised at first that Tom had decided to finally stop fighting Harry's undisguised adoration of him, as the weeks and months had progressed Tom's whole persona had changed. The pilot's demeanour virtually screamed misery and everyone was commenting on it, although, oddly enough, Harry still seemed ecstatic.
"No, I don't," Chakotay hissed. "I prefer not to think about him at all. Paris and Kim deserve each other, believe me. Harry's got the `record' now, hasn't he? So he must be doing `something' right. As for Paris, he's obviously just run out of new people to screw."
"You used to call him `Tom'," Kathryn said mildly.
"The person I called `Tom' never existed except in my own imagination," Chakotay replied tonelessly.
"I don't understand," Kathryn said helplessly, only to gasp in pity as Chakotay finally allowed his veil of indifference to slide enough for her to finally see the tortured man it concealed.
"He's dead, Kathryn. Even if he never really existed except in my heart, that's how it feels. It is as though I loved someone and they died and I can't escape the grief and the pain of knowing that they have gone forever."
"But he's not dead, Chakotay," Kathryn protested.
"Oh yes he is," Chakotay replied firmly. "Lieutenant Paris may be alive and well, but my Tom is dead."
"What do you think you look like in that?" Harry demanded furiously.
Tom looked helplessly down at his loose jeans and baggy t-shirt.
"You told me casual," he said, chewing nervously on his lower lip.
"You don't look casual, Tom, you look a fucking mess. I suggest we go out together, play some pool, and you can't even be bothered to wear clothes that fucking fit you," Harry growled. "I'm not going out with you like that. What the hell would people think of me, going out with a slob like you?"
Tom flushed, his eyes flashing with angry confusion.
"Last night you said we couldn't go out because my jeans were too tight," he reminded Harry. "You said I looked like a slut. Now, they are too loose? I can't please you, can I? There's always *something* wrong with my clothes."
"Oh, that's right, blame me because you only have two dress modes, slut and slob," Harry purred nastily.
"I'll change again," Tom offered desperately. If he had to spend another evening in his cabin alone with Harry he was going to start crawling the walls.
"Don't bother, we're staying in," Harry snapped.
"We *always* stay in," Tom complained petulantly.
"Well, whose fault is that, Tom?" Harry replied smugly.
"I said I'd get changed, Harry. *You* pick my damned clothes this time."
"You're suddenly very keen to go out," Harry said suspiciously.
"Hell, Harry, it's been months since we did anything together. I just want to go out for a change. I sit at the helm all day, then I sit here all night, it's driving me crazy Harry. I need some exercise, dammit."
Harry tipped his head at the bedroom door.
"I think you get lots of exercise, Tom, but if you want we can always fuck *before* dinner as well, for a change," he suggested, licking his lips.
Tom shuddered, his skin crawling as usual at the thought of Harry touching him, using him. When Harry fucked him it wasn't rape, Tom knew. Harry never hurt him, never *physically* forced him, yet somehow it would be easier if he did. If Harry had ever just used his body, Tom would have been able to somehow find a way out of this nightmare.
But Harry didn't. Harry didn't just fuck him. Harry worshipped him. Every touch of Harry's fingers on his skin was applied with an adoration that was impossible to refute and yet was terrifying. Harry was obsessed by him to the point of madness. Harry needed to own him, control him, dominate him. Sometimes, he wondered whether Harry was truly sane at all.
"Why don't we go out first?" Tom wheedled. "It would be fun, Haz. Like the old days, huh?"
"It's him, isn't it? He's going to be there tonight. That's why you want to go out?" Harry demanded, his eyes flashing with jealousy.
"Don't be stupid, of course he won't be there. He's never there. He never leaves his quarters, so there's no reason for you to keep me in all the time," Tom soothed.
"Who told you he always stays in his quarters?" Harry demanded.
"Who the fuck have you been discussing him with, Tom?"
"No one, Harry. Honest. It's just common knowledge, isn't it?"
"So, you talk to other people about Chakotay?"
"No," Tom denied tiredly.
"Do they pass messages between you?"
"Thought you'd deny it," Harry spat. "SLUT!"
"Fuck this crap, I'm going out," Tom growled, starting to push past the furious Ensign.
"So you *are* meeting him," Harry accused.
"You're fucking crazy, Harry. I am NOT MEETING HIM! Now get the fuck out of my way."
"Take one foot out of that door, and I'll comm the Captain," Harry hissed. "I'll tell her what you're doing."
"What exactly *am* I doing, Harry?" Tom demanded.
"Dropping your lover in one shit-load of trouble," Harry hissed.
"HE'S NOT MY LOVER," Tom yelled.
"Well he won't be when he's in the brig for assaulting you," Harry agreed.
Tom froze in the doorway.
"That's old news, Harry," he said quietly.
"Not to the Captain it isn't. I saved the tricorder logs, remember?" Harry reminded him yet again. "Oddly enough, she came to see me today, wanted to talk to me about you. She wanted to know why you're being so unsociable these days.
"I told her that Chakotay had really hurt you. Of course, I didn't tell her the details because you asked me not to and I trusted you to stay away from him. If you go out, though, I think for your own sake I'm going to have to tell her the rest of the story."
"You bastard," Tom hissed in defeat.
Harry shrugged. With someone like Tom, you sometimes had to be cruel to be kind. He was rather pissed off with Tom to be truthful. After almost five months of experiencing true love, Tom should have learnt to appreciate him. Instead they wasted a good ten minutes every evening having variations of this same argument.
Perhaps it was just one of Tom's games, testing him like this to be sure that Harry was still completely under his spell. Yeah, that was it. Tom just needed to know that Harry would never give him up.
"So, since we're staying in, what do you want for dinner, honey?" he asked with a triumphant smile.
"I don't like it," Kathryn announced to the silent room.
Judging by the expressions on the faces of most of the Senior Staff, they didn't like the idea of someone going alone to the surface either.
"We can't turn our back on this opportunity, Captain," B'Elanna insisted. "We need the dilithium. I'll go."
"You can't," Chakotay stated bluntly. "Our observation of the natives clearly indicates that females are considered inferior and can't trade for goods."
"Primitive savages," B'Elanna hissed.
"Which is why the Prime Directive applies here, Lieutenant Torres," Tuvok added. "It appears from our observations that a single "male" trader would not cause undue suspicion or fear. These people appear to have a rigid system of caste and tribe. The only interaction between the scattered settlements happens when lone merchants cross the deserts that separate the villages. From what we have seen the merchants never travel in pairs and the initial hostility that they encounter when they approach the settlements indicates a high level of paranoia."
"I still don't see why Tom has to go," Harry griped, just this side of insubordination.
"Physically he and Seven are the closest to the norm for the natives. Tom is the only suitable male candidate. He will require only minor surgical adaptation to blend in," the Doctor replied.
"Nobody *has* to go," Kathryn interrupted. "This is not an order, Tom. I am uncomfortable with the idea that you will be alone down there and will fully understand if you would rather not volunteer."
Tom shifted uncomfortably on his seat, trying to ignore the way Chakotay was glowering at him. There was no way in hell he was refusing in front of him. Chakotay already thought he was lying scum, he didn't want to add `coward' to Chakotay's list of adjectives.
"Of course I volunteer, Captain," Tom said nonchalantly, even as his stomach churned a little. He'd seen the vids of the planet below and it was hardly his nomination for holiday destination of the year. On the other hand, it would be a chance to escape Harry's cloying affection for a few days, which had to be a good thing.
"Thank you, Tom," Kathryn said sincerely. She had never before questioned whether Tom would put himself on the line for the good of the ship but he had been so subdued recently that his reactions had been as unpredictable as Chakotay's of late.
"I will keep a transporter lock on you at all times," Tuvok stated. "However, it would be preferable if you avoided any situation which would require its use. The natives would undoubtedly question your disappearance in front of their eyes."
Tom rolled his eyes.
"I'm aware of the Prime Directive, Tuvok. My cover story is sound. I'll be in and out of there in no time," he assured the Vulcan.
"I'm sure your acting abilities will be to their usual impeccable standards, Lieutenant," Chakotay drawled.
Tom flinched but to his relief no one else seemed to notice the barb in Chakotay's words.
"He's doing it deliberately. It was his idea that you went," Harry hissed when they returned to Tom's quarters.
"It wasn't his idea," Tom argued. "I'm the logical choice. Anyway, it's no big deal."
"No big deal?" Harry demanded furiously. "You're going to be alone on a hostile planet, with natives so paranoid that they only allow single visitors, and then only after giving them a full body search. It's a damned suicide mission. It's Chakotay's doing, I swear. He's trying to get you killed."
"For god's sake, Harry. Yesterday you said I was having an affair with him behind your back. Now you think he's trying to kill me. I wish you'd at least be consistent in your fantasies," Tom complained.
Harry's face fell.
"I'm only concerned about you because I love you," he moaned. "You're so damned ungrateful, Tom. Here I am, the only person who gives a shit about you and you act as if it's a crime to care about you. I didn't see your precious Chakotay trying to talk the Captain out of sending you down into a death trap."
"It's not a death trap, Harry. It's a mission," Tom snapped, but Harry could see the first traces of uncertainty in Tom's eyes. Harry rammed the point home.
"It was so mean of him to say that you were ideal for the mission because you're such a natural liar," he said sympathetically.
"He did *not* call me a liar," Tom protested.
"Actor, Liar, whatever," Harry shrugged. "It was obvious what he meant."
"Was it?" Tom asked, his eyes suddenly sparkling with unshed tears.
"Of course it was," Harry commiserated. "Everyone noticed. Tell you what. Why don't you go tell the Captain you've changed your mind? Like she said, it's a voluntary thing."
"I am not changing my mind," Tom hissed.
Harry just smiled enigmatically.
Tom took a deep breath, straightened his shoulders and stepped forward into the Captain's ready room. He was so busy rehearsing what he was going to say that it took him a moment to realise that it was Chakotay sitting in the Captain's usual chair.
"Lieutenant?" Chakotay spat.
"I, um, I was looking for the Captain," Tom muttered, keeping his eyes firmly locked on the carpet under his feet.
"She's not here," Chakotay clarified unnecessarily. "What do you want, Paris?"
"I, um," Tom stuttered.
A cold smirk played on Chakotay's lips.
"Oh, don't tell me. You've decided you *don't* want to do it after all," Chakotay mocked. "What happened, Paris? You discovered there wasn't any bonus pay on offer?" he mocked.
Anger flared through Tom. He'd just spent two hours arguing with Harry over the away mission. He had finally given in to Harry's threats, only to find himself derided by the man he had sold his soul to protect.
Fuck it. Guilt was guilt, but he had taken reparation too far already. He was sick and tired of trying to protect a man who evidently would never see him as anything but scum. Maybe he *was* scum, but if so then why the hell was he even trying to be anything else?
He would go to the surface, he decided. It was the least he could do for the rest of the crew, and if Harry finally made good on his threats, then so be it. He couldn't live like this any longer.
He stiffened his shoulders proudly and looked Chakotay straight in the face for the first time since the day Chakotay had broken his wrist.
"I came to discuss a personal matter. That is all, Commander. It can wait until I return from the planet," he said proudly, then turned on his heel and left the room without waiting to be dismissed.
Chakotay narrowed his eyes as he watched the door close. He wasn't fooled. Paris *had* come to decline the mission, he was sure. Fortunately for the rest of the crew, he had obviously shamed Paris to his senses. It was surprising, but satisfying, that Paris still cared at least *that* much about his own opinion, he decided.
Tom didn't risk returning to his quarters. He hoped that if Harry didn't find out he had gone until it was too late, then he wouldn't bother going through with his threat. After all, why would he waste his only lever over Tom?
Harry wasn't his friend. Tom understood that now. He'd understood that since the first night that Harry had blackmailed him into having sex with him. Harry *did* love him. But it wasn't any cause for celebration. Harry's version of love was a selfish, possessive obsession.
Harry's love was an albatross around Tom's neck, choking him, weighing him down, draining him of strength and eating away at Tom's soul.
If he had one, of course. Chakotay hadn't seemed to think so and Tom was beginning to believe he was right. Harry's love, as injurious and oppressive as it was, was probably the best that he deserved.
Hell, with any luck Harry would turn out to be right about this being a suicide mission, he decided as he left Sickbay with his new facial ridges and headed for the transporter room.
Maybe this *was* a plot by Chakotay to finally claim his vengeance. Perhaps he would die on the planet below.
To tell the truth, the thought was oddly appealing to him.
Tom's vague self-pitying desire to die was swept away abruptly within two hours of arriving on the planet. He spent the first hour battling through a sand storm that whipped up almost simultaneously with his arrival, as though the gods themselves were laughing at his expense.
He was too busy trying to keep the swirling red sand out of his stinging eyes without completely losing his sense of direction to even consider what was going on aboard Voyager in his absence.
Then, no sooner had he arrived at the heavy gate in the settlement wall than his next nightmare began.
Tuvok had explained that the natives were likely to strip search him, and he had experienced that before in Auckland, so although the idea made him cringe, he had known what to expect. At least he had thought so.
But this wasn't the Federation, where even a prisoner was treated with respect and decorum. Oh no. These barbarians thought that strip searches should be done in public in the middle of a fucking sand storm. By the time they had finished he had as much sand up his ass as in his eyes. Even his cock was stinging from the abrasive sand by the time they allowed him to get dressed again.
Fortunately they hadn't given a second glance to his comm badge which was cunningly disguised as a cheap medallion hung around his neck.
Although he had brought several bags of brightly coloured trinkets to sell, all beautifully crafted into fine-looking jewellery, his own "adornment" was plain and deliberately looked valueless. As Tuvok had pointed out, there was no guarantee that the natives wouldn't simply rob him rather than trade and although Voyager could pin-point his physical characteristics to beam him up, he didn't want to lose his only form of communication.
As soon as he walked through the heavy gates, his sand-filled trousers rubbing painfully against his inner thighs and his ass abraded by the guard's rough fingers, Tom's nostrils were assaulted by the worst stench he could imagine.
The streets of the settlement ran with open sewers, he realised, as he choked back the urge to vomit. The natives inside the walls were all as filthy as he was in his sand-scored clothing.
No. Filthier, he soon realised. The dirt on their skin wasn't the result of a couple of hours in a sand-storm. It was the accumulation of a lifetime without washing.
His skin crawled as he remembered the Guard's filthy digit inspecting his ass. Shit, he hoped the Doctor had a shot to cure terminal filth.
The streets were so crowded that he was jostled by people moving about their business and when he was accidentally pushed against a woman's back he actually saw lice running up her bedraggled hair. Immediately his own scalp began to itch in sympathy and he hurriedly detached himself from her.
Fuck the original idea of staying the night, he decided. He wasn't going anywhere near whatever these people used for beds, let alone drinking or eating anything that they had touched. The sooner he traded and left, the better, he decided.
Not that he could imagine why the hell Tuvok had sent him down here with jewellery. Soap would have been a hell of a more marketable commodity, in his opinion.
It was only as he moved deeper into the densely populated settlement that he began to see inhabitants who were better dressed and clearly more affluent. They were still filthy, but their clothes were finer and the women wore their hair piled up on their heads, fashioned into ornate styles threaded with gaudy jewels.
Feeling a little more confident about his mission, he proceeded to the market square where people thronged around laden stalls and sole traders like himself. The air was ripe with the smell of rotting fruit, a large proportion of it not under the stalls, but actually on top of them for sale.
Tom swallowed dryly and decided that Neelix's cooking wasn't so bad after all. He couldn't believe that people lived like this.
He spent a little time watching the other traders until he had an idea of the way that the native currency worked. Rather than coins, they had a complicated system that seemed to be based on sticks of carved wood and it took him a couple of hours to understand the difference between what on the surface seemed identical sticks to him. When he finally felt confident enough to offer his own jewellery for sale, it was mid-afternoon.
His offerings were met with enthusiasm, fortunately, and he soon got into a rhythm of bartering with the natives. It seemed the society wasn't as chauvinistic as they had believed. Although the buying and selling was all done by men, the women were definitely the ones who decided what they wanted and put their feet down until their menfolk dug into their pockets.
He almost enjoyed the experience except for the fact that the light was beginning to dim and he still had to travel to the mining settlement several kilometres further away before he could buy the dilithium they needed. He was loath to return to the sand storms at all, let alone traverse the desert by night. It was better than the alternative though, he decided, as a flea hopped off a customer's shoulder and began to chew merrily on his arm.
By now he had what he at least *hoped* was a small fortune in sticks, and he only had a couple of strands of beads left. So he fastened his knap-sack and asked someone to direct him the fastest way back to the gate.
The native gave him laboriously detailed instructions, then ended by saying, "But you can't leave tonight."
"What do you mean?" Tom demanded.
"Gate's locked dusk `til dawn," the man replied with a grin full of blackened, rotted teeth.
Tom shuddered and contemplated his chances of convincing Tuvok to allow him a site to site transport to the mine on humanitarian grounds. Slim to none, he concluded miserably. He was just going to have to find somewhere to stay for the night and pray that Voyager's transporters could deal with his inevitable "passengers".
"Do you know somewhere *clean* where I could stay tonight?" he asked desperately.
The native smirked and proceeded to give him another laborious set of directions. Tom thanked him and set off miserably, not noticing the way that the man immediately approached another trader and began to converse with him, both sending frequent speculative glances after Tom's retreating back.
"There's an incoming message from Lieutenant Paris," Ensign Forbes announced.
"Put it through to my terminal," Chakotay ordered tersely.
"Tuvok?" came Tom's furtive whisper.
"It is 2330, Lieutenant," Chakotay replied coldly. "He is in bed, as should you be."
On the surface Tom shuddered. He *had* tried to go to bed, but had decided eventually that the only way he was going to be able to sleep with all his new and eager "bed-buddies" was if he was 1) completely exhausted, and 2) pissed as a fart.
So he had returned downstairs into the bar of the tiny inn, only to discover to his complete horror that the natives might *look* relatively human, but they evidently weren't since what they considered alcohol was weaker than gnat's piss and twice as vile.
Nursing a filthy mug of the disgusting brew, Tom had slowly become aware of the gathering jackals. It was an instinct he had, well honed in prison, to know when danger was lurking. It didn't matter that every time he looked up and met someone's eyes they just gave him a friendly nod. He *knew* something was up. Suddenly it didn't seem a smart idea to be alone in a tavern with a small fortune in his bag.
He had hurriedly left the bar and returned to his tiny room, locking the decidedly thin door and moving the bed until it formed a barrier across the doorframe. Twice already he had heard someone furtively trying his door handle.
"I've traded the jewels," he whispered into his comm badge. "I've got the local currency. So I thought maybe I could beam back on board and return to the surface tomorrow. It would save the time it'll take to walk to the mining settlement."
On the bridge, Chakotay considered Paris's request.
"Are you alone?" he asked.
"Of course I am," Tom hissed.
"And will anyone realise you have `vanished?'" Chakotay asked pointedly.
Tom regarded his own barricade and sighed. Of course they'd damn well notice.
"No buts, Lieutenant. Or do you think the Prime Directive doesn't apply to you?" Chakotay snapped.
Tom swallowed nervously as he heard his door handle tried again, louder this time, as though whoever wanted to break in no longer cared whether he heard their attempt.
"I don't think I'm safe, Commander," he whispered. "People saw me getting all that money. I really think I should return to Voyager now," Tom hissed urgently.
For a moment, the tinge of panic in Paris's voice nearly swayed the Commander. Then he realised that it was Paris talking.
"Are you actually in danger, Lieutenant?" Chakotay demanded.
As Tom shuddered at the unmistakeable distain in Chakotay's voice, he heard the would-be intruder curse and then the sound of footsteps retreating down the corridor.
"I'm not sure," Tom replied quietly. "Maybe not."
"Then I suggest you stop wasting my time, Lieutenant. We BOTH have jobs to do."
Tom never heard his answer though, since for some inexplicable reason, his comm badge suddenly gave a high-pitched whine and ceased to function.
"Life signs still poor but stabilising," Ensign Johnson confirmed weakly, turning her head away from the body in the bio-bed. She'd been the Doctor's full time assistant for six months now, but she'd never seen so much blood. She'd never even imagined that the human body could hold that much blood.
The Doctor was currently ignoring the majority of the multiple stab wounds, more concerned with the blade that had punctured Tom's lungs.
"His blood pressure is dropping again," Ensign Johnson squeaked.
"I told you to start suturing, Ensign," the Doctor practically growled.
Johnson picked up the regenerator, stepped towards Tom's ripped stomach, took one look at the exposed entrails, turned green and slumped to the floor, the regenerator slipping from her unconscious fingers.
A large hand swept out and caught the falling instrument before it hit the floor.
The Doctor paused only long enough to check that the Commander knew what he was doing, then left him to start repairing Tom's abdomen while he worked on his lungs and heart. He decided to refrain from commenting on Chakotay's decision to save the regenerator from hitting the floor, rather than the Ensign.
Although the Commander looked pale and shaken, his hands were moving with assurance over Tom's battered body and his help would hopefully be the difference between whether Tom survived or not.
"At 2330 you received a communication from Lieutenant Paris," Tuvok intoned.
Ensign Forbes gulped noisily but nodded, her eyes flinching from the Vulcan's gaze.
"What was the nature of that communication?" Tuvok asked.
Ensign Forbes twisted her hands nervously on her lap.
"Tom, I mean the Lieutenant, asked to speak with you, Sir. Since you had left the bridge, the Commander spoke to him instead."
"Was the Lieutenant agitated in your opinion?" Tuvok asked.
She bit her lip thoughtfully.
"He sounded a *little* strange, but no more than I would expect since he was whispering."
"Did the Lieutenant request transportation from the surface?" Tuvok demanded.
Ensign Forbes straightened in her seat. She wasn't stupid. She had a fair idea where *this* line of questioning was heading.
"I don't know, Sir. Once I transferred the call it would have been a severe breach of protocol to have listened in. My console will confirm that I did not."
"You did, however overhear the Commander's side of the conversation," Tuvok replied firmly.
Ensign Forbes had no choice except to agree.
"And in your opinion, from what you heard of the Commander's side of the conversation, did the Lieutenant request a transport off the surface?" Tuvok demanded.
"Yes, I believe so," she confirmed reluctantly
"And the Commander refused?"
"I heard him mention the Prime Directive. It appeared that the Lieutenant was not in a secure location for transport," she said loyally.
"Well he wouldn't be with two dozen people sticking knives in him, would he?" Harry Kim snarled from the corner.
"If you interrupt again, I shall ask for you to be removed from this room," Tuvok stated.
"He won't interrupt again, will you Ensign?" the Captain warned.
"No, Captain. I'm sorry," Harry replied with barely concealed resentment.
"So," Tuvok continued. "Lieutenant Paris *did* ask to be rescued?"
"No," Ensign Forbes replied firmly.
"Explain," Tuvok demanded.
"I heard the Commander ask `Are you actually in danger, Lieutenant?' and then he said, `Then I suggest you stop wasting my time, Lieutenant'. It seemed clear to me that the Lieutenant had replied in the negative about whether he was in danger," Ensign Forbes said staunchly. "Despite what happened some hours later, I believe that at the point that Tom contacted the ship neither he nor the Commander knew what danger he was truly in."
Tuvok nodded at her reasoning, then steepled his fingers thoughtfully.
"If I were to tell you that the ship to surface transmission was interrupted, and that the last transmission from this ship was the Commander asking "Are you actually in danger?" would you still feel as assured about your interpretation of the incident?" he asked.
The color drained from Ensign Forbes face as she contemplated his words. Because she had heard Chakotay tell Tom to stop wasting his time, she had naturally assumed that Tom must have said he *wasn't* actually in danger. If Chakotay had spoken *after* the transmission had ended, then Tom's answer could have been anything.
"Well?" Tuvok demanded.
Ensign Forbes raised her head proudly and looked Tuvok straight in the face.
"Since it was Commander Chakotay speaking, I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that my original interpretation was correct," she stated firmly.
"Very well, Ensign. That is all. You are dismissed," Tuvok replied.
He waited until she had left the room before he addressed the Captain and Harry Kim.
"Although Ensign Forbes opinion is obviously influenced by her respect for the Commander, and despite the fact that Mr Paris was attacked shortly after his transmission was terminated, I see no reason to suspect that the Commander *was* aware that Tom was truly in danger. Let alone any reason to suppose that he would wish Mr. Paris to be harmed," he told them.
"Perhaps you would now enlighten me as to the additional evidence that apparently exists."
"He is out of danger," the Doctor pronounced finally. "He is extremely fortunate that I have the experience of twenty surgeons to draw on, although I doubt that a human Doctor could have performed such a procedure."
Chakotay refused to rise to the bait. Hell, if the Doctor wanted a medal he'd give him one.
He had told Kathryn that his Tom was dead, that "Paris" was nothing to do with the man he had fallen in love with, and maybe at some level that was true.
But this was the body he had caressed, this was the flesh that he had touched and worshipped, this was the frail vessel that held the strange personality that was Tom Paris.
That was the reality of the situation, he had realised, as he had sat in his command chair, idly flicking through reports and had seen the brief warning that a comm badge had malfunctioned.
His eyes had skipped over the detail at first, buried as it was in a list of minor systems malfunctions. Then, with a feeling of sudden inexplicable dread, he had queried exactly *which* comm badge had registered as faulty on the computer.
He hadn't hesitated, hadn't worried whether Tom Paris's disappearance would be the start of a new religion on the surface below, he had located Tom Paris's bio-signal and had transported him directly into sickbay, just in case.
And in so doing, he had finally realised that it *was* Tom Paris. Not Tom. Not Paris. But a combination of the two. Somewhere, in Paris's body, the person he knew as "Tom", *did* exist, and even if he could never bring himself to forgive the pilot for his deception, it was time that he let go of the hate at least.
His musing was interrupted by the opening of the sick bay doors.
"He's going to make it," he murmured thankfully to Tuvok.
Tuvok turned to the Doctor.
"Is he?" he demanded.
"Thanks to my expert surgery I can confidently confirm that Mr. Paris will survive," the Doctor confirmed smugly.
Tuvok entered a correction into the data padd he was carrying.
"In that case, Commander. You are under arrest for the *attempted* murder of Lieutenant Paris," he stated.
"You can't possibly believe I deliberately left Tom to be killed," Chakotay snarled.
His use of Tom's first name wasn't lost on the Captain, but she refrained from commenting on that for the moment.
"Of course, I don't, Chakotay. Whatever has happened between you and Tom, you aren't a murderer," she replied firmly.
"Then why am I under arrest?" Chakotay demanded.
"Because by appearing to believe that you are guilty, Tuvok believes that the real culprit will become careless enough to reveal his hand," Kathryn answered. "If Tom was conscious it would be easier to get to the bottom of this mess, but the Doctor says it won't be safe to wake him for another 12 hours at least."
"What culprit?" Chakotay asked in confusion. "Tom was attacked by the natives, wasn't he?"
"His injuries were inflicted by the people who robbed him, yes, but whoever caused his comm badge to fail is on his ship," Kathryn replied.
"It wasn't a malfunction?"
"It was sabotaged by a high-frequency transmission deliberately sent from a terminal on Voyager," she confirmed.
"I don't understand."
"Whoever did it had set up the computer to register when Tom contacted the ship. A feedback loop was created when you started to speak to him, and then someone used your own transmission to piggy- back the disruptor down to Tom's badge."
"It doesn't make sense, Kathryn. How would anyone know what would happen down there? Tom might *not* have been attacked and then the whole thing would have been a waste of time."
"Tuvok believes that whoever did it was listening in to your conversation and decided to play the odds that Tom would get into *some* kind of trouble and need to use his comm badge. When it failed to work, the malfunction would be traced directly back to your terminal."
"But who hates Tom enough to do that to him?" Chakotay asked in disbelief.
"We are supposed to believe you do, Chakotay, and I have a few questions to ask you about that too. However, this wasn't an attack on Tom. It was an attack on you."
"On me? You think that someone let Tom nearly die just so that I would be blamed?" Chakotay demanded in horror.
Kathryn nodded sadly.
"You know who did it, don't you?" Chakotay accused.
"We have a good idea, but no proof as yet," she confirmed.
"WHO THE FUCK DID IT?" Chakotay roared.
Kathryn ignored his outburst.
"I need you to answer a few questions of my own first and I'd like to do it formally, with Tuvok present," she said.
Chakotay digested her words. He appreciated the fact that she had taken the time to talk to him *before* he had seen Tuvok again. It was necessary that he co-operate with the Vulcan fully and he wouldn't have done that if he had truly believed that the outrageous charge against him was serious.
"Of course," he replied.
"We are in possession of tricorder records that prove that Mr. Paris suffered two severe injuries. The first involved a jaw fractured in four places. The second involved his right wrist being broken. The Doctor has confirmed that he treated the broken jaw and that Tom named you as the perpetrator although for reasons as yet unexplained he refused to press charges against you for the assault," Tuvok stated.
"I broke his wrist too," Chakotay confirmed, deciding to save the Vulcan from having to ask.
"Mr. Paris did not report *that* incident at all," Tuvok replied. "The record I have received is from the data cartridge of a personal bone-knitter."
"The real questions, Chakotay," Kathryn interrupted. "Are why did you, a man known to be pacific, assault Tom so violently on two occasions and why did he fail to report them at the time?"
Chakotay's face burned and he dropped his eyes in humiliation as he answered.
"I punched him because I discovered that he'd only pretended to love me. I overheard Harry telling him that he hadn't needed to sleep with me to get his pip back, after all. A week later he came to my office and tried to convince me to take him back. He admitted that he had lied to me, that he had only gone out with me for what he could get out of the arrangement. Then he said he'd fallen in love with me, so I shouldn't care why he'd gone out with me in the first place since it had worked out okay in the end.
"He, he touched me, Kathryn. He tried to seduce me again. And I, I simply lost control. I was so scared of giving in, of letting him wrap me around his finger again, that I manhandled him out of my office. I didn't mean to break his wrist, I was just crazy and scared."
"Oh, god, Chakotay. I had no idea. I am so sorry," Kathryn whispered, reaching out to take his hand and squeeze it comfortingly.
"I fail to understand your reasoning, Commander," Tuvok interrupted. "You loved him. He loved you. You were both sexually compatible and you just admitted that you were tempted by his offer to resume the relationship. Your decision to spurn his seduction was illogical."
"It was human, Tuvok," Kathryn replied tolerantly to her mate. "Chakotay's emotional rejection of Tom under the circumstances was perfectly natural."
"For a human," Tuvok sniffed disdainfully.
"So that explains why you said *your* Tom had died," Kathryn exclaimed. "Tom turned out to be a completely different person than you believed him to be and so you believed that your love for him was as false as he was."
Chakotay nodded miserably.
"I *do* love him, Kathryn," he said helplessly. "And I want him and need him, and I would never deliberately harm him, only I just can't forgive him."
"I understand why you were hurt, Chakotay. But surely everyone deserves a second chance. He said he loved you, why couldn't you try to accept his apology?" Kathryn asked gently.
"Because his apology wasn't worth the breath he used to say it. He really didn't understand that he had done anything wrong, Kathryn. He said it was a game. He even accused *me* of playing games with him. I can't even begin to understand what goes on in his head. His behaviour, his reactions, his feelings even, are all completely alien to everything I believe in. I can't love someone whose whole personality and values are the complete opposite of my own, Kathryn."
"Then it is fortunate that I was on an away mission with the Captain rather than yourself when I entered my Ponn Farr," Tuvok interrupted dryly.
Chakotay gave Tuvok a startled look.
"It's not the same. Tom is human."
"If he were *not* human, would you find it less difficult to accept his differences?"
"I don't understand what you are trying to say," Chakotay complained.
"Mr. Paris is a unique individual. I myself have often found his behaviour illogical and his attitude irreverent. However, in the years that he has served on this ship I have often found my own perceptions of him challenged by behaviour that did not conform to my expectations. Out of all of the humans that I have interacted with, Mr. Paris is one of the most complex. He is also one of the rare humans that I would chose to call my friend."
"Even though you know he lies and manipulates people?" Chakotay challenged.
"People are a total of their traits, both good and bad, Commander. His faults, however bad are balanced by his bravery, warm-heart and propensity to self-sacrifice. I am not discounting the severe personal anguish that his behaviour has evidently caused you. However, that is your personal concern. My own judgement of Mr. Paris is based on the whole person.
"You have described him as selfishly using you for personal gain. I do not dispute your tale. I do, however, draw your attention to the number of times he has voluntarily risked his life for no personal benefit. His acceptance of the mission yesterday is a typical example of that trait. Whatever personal selfishness he is capable of, the is also capable of acts of great courage and selflessness."
"I know," Chakotay admitted, then he shook himself. "This conversation is getting us nowhere. Tom and Harry are together now, so it's irrelevant how I feel about him. The important thing is to find out who set me up and nearly killed Tom in the process."
Tuvok and Kathryn exchanged a look.
"What?" Chakotay demanded. "What aren't you telling me?"
"Sit down, Chakotay, and don't you dare get up again until I tell you or I'll have you transported back to the brig until you calm down again," Kathryn warned.
"At this stage, it is purely supposition," Tuvok added. "We have no proof of our suspicions whatsoever."
"Who?" Chakotay hissed.
Kathryn bit her lip and put a restraining hand on Chakotay's shoulder.
"We're pretty sure that it was Harry Kim," she admitted.
For a moment, Chakotay was too stunned to even react, and when he finally did, it wasn't with the bellow of outrage that she expected, it was with laughter.
"You cannot be serious," Chakotay laughed. "Harry worships the ground Tom walks on. He'd never do anything that would put Tom in danger. He'd no more have left Tom helpless on that planet than I would."
"It was Harry who brought me the tricorder evidence, Chakotay. It was he who suggested that you had deliberately tried to kill Tom by sending him to the planet alone. It was his suggestion that we check your terminal for evidence that you had sabotaged Tom's comm badge, despite the fact that no one would ever have looked for such an occurrence without his suggestion."
"Harry?" Chakotay asked in disbelief.
"So either he is right, and you *did* try to kill Tom, or Harry has developed psychic powers, or *he* sabotaged Tom's badge," Kathryn concluded.
"But why the hell would he do it? Why risk Tom's life just to frame me?" Chakotay demanded.
"Perhaps Tom and Harry aren't as `together' as you thought, Commander," Tuvok replied.
"I know I said it would be safe to wake him," the Doctor griped. "I didn't suggest that you could interrogate him though. He will be in considerable pain, Captain. Far too much pain to answer your questions coherently."
"Surely you can give him a painkiller," Kathryn argued. "We only need to ask him a few questions and then he can sleep again."
"If he is under the influence of a narcotic, the validity of his answers will be questionable," Tuvok warned.
"Speed is of the essence, Tuvok. We have to get to the bottom of this before the whole ship is alerted to the fact that Chakotay is supposedly under arrest," Kathryn reminded him.
"Methadrine," Chakotay snapped.
"Absolutely not," the Doctor protested.
"What's methadrine?" Kathryn asked blankly.
"It's barbaric," the Doctor huffed.
"It is perfectly safe and can be used with morphine," Chakotay argued.
"May I remind you that Mr. Paris is *not* a Cardassian prisoner. This is *not* a Maquis ship, Commander," the Doctor snapped.
"WHAT'S METHADRINE?" Kathryn roared.
"It's a stimulant that works like a truth drug. Tom will be able to talk, he actually won't be able to stop talking, and every word he utters will be the complete and absolute truth. It's completely harmless and as I said, it won't react with a morphine based painkiller," Chakotay replied.
"It is completely unacceptable," the Doctor huffed.
"I agree," Tuvok stated. "It is, however, logical."
"It is an infringement of Tom's rights," Kathryn argued, extremely uncomfortable with the idea.
"So is someone deliberately sabotaging his comm badge and leaving him to be stabbed to death by a bunch of murdering thieves," Chakotay growled. "Put it this way, Captain, either we give Tom this painless drug or I pay a visit right now to Mr Kim and I assure you that *that* won't be a painless encounter."
Kathryn realised that short of arresting him again, there was no way she could stop Chakotay from carrying out his threat.
"Very well," she said.
He was flying, Tom decided, and grinned happily.
"Tom?" he heard the Captain say gently.
He opened his eyes and tried to look at her face. It was blurred by the dense clouds he was floating through and kept fading in and out of focus, which was weird, but not as weird as the fact that she was obviously flying too. He giggled at the idea of them both floating through the fluffy white clouds together.
"How do you feel Tom?" the Captain asked.
"Fanchastic," he slurred. His own voice didn't seem right to him, although he couldn't pinpoint the problem. Maybe it was the altitude. Or, oh shit, was he drunk? Fuck, he WAS drunk. In front of the Captain. Fuck that was funny.
"Drunk," he sniggered happily.
"He says he feels drunk," Kathryn said unnecessarily. "Are you sure this is going to work?"
"I had to give him a high dose of barbiturate first to ensure that he would experience no pain on waking. He *has* just had intensive surgery, Captain," the Doctor snapped.
"He'll start to come down from the high quickly," Chakotay said, with a confidence that chilled her. She didn't want to know how her peaceful First Officer knew so much about interrogative drugs.
"Tom," she said gently.
Tom's blue eyes tried to focus on her again.
"You cut your hair," he said. "You looked so much prettier with long hair. I loved your long hair."
Kathryn flushed. "I guess the truth drug is working," she muttered in embarrassment.
"Let me," Chakotay urged.
Kathryn decided she would rather spare herself any more of Tom's observations and stepped back to allow Chakotay to take over.
"Hello, Tom," Chakotay said, sitting on the edge of the bed so that Tom could see him clearly.
"How are you feeling? Are you in pain?"
"My heart hurts," Tom wailed.
"You said he wouldn't feel anything," Kathryn hissed at the Doctor.
"Well I explained that the knives punctured his lung *and* his heart, Captain. Why do you think he nearly died?" the Doctor protested. "He shouldn't be able to feel it though," he added petulantly, as though Tom was deliberately defying him.
Chakotay ran a gentle hand over Tom's chest.
"Where does it hurt, Tom?" he asked, his interrogation forgotten in the face of Tom's declaration of pain.
"Everywhere," Tom sobbed. "You made me love you and you never said it would hurt, but it did, and then you didn't love me, and that hurt more, and I wanted to hate you, but I couldn't, `cos it was my fault and so I hated me, but that hurt too. I hurt, and I don't want to hurt, Chak."
For a moment, Chakotay was too stunned to answer. He just sat there telling himself, over and over, he loves me. He *really* loves me. He's not lying. He *can't* be lying and he loves me. Tom loves me.
He shook himself abruptly.
"Tell me about Harry, Tom," he urged.
"Harry loves me," Tom answered with a sigh. Chakotay stiffened but forced himself to continue.
"Does he Tom? That's nice."
"No it's not," Tom spat. "I hate it. I hate him `cos he hates you."
Kathryn and Tuvok exchanged a glance.
"Why do you say he hates me, Tom?" Chakotay asked.
"Because he's jealous. He knows I love you. I told him you hated me but he doesn't trust you. He says you're dangerous."
"Dangerous to you?"
"Yeah, he says you'll just beat me up again if I talk to you. He said you wanted to kill me. That's why you sent me down there with the bugs. I hate bugs. Did you know I hate bugs Chak? I do. I really do. Is that why you sent me down there? Because I hate bugs? There were bugs everywhere. I hate bugs. Did I tell you I hate bugs?"
"Tell me about Harry, Tom," Chakotay interrupted quickly.
"Don't know if Harry hates bugs," Tom said thoughtfully. "He hates you though."
"How do you know he hates me?"
"Because he keeps saying he'll tell the Captain what you did. He says if I leave him he'll tell everyone what I did and you'll be so embarrassed you'll have to leave the ship and I don't want you to leave the ship, Chak. I don't want you to go anywhere. I love you. I know you hate me. But that's okay cos I hate me too, so I understand. But I love you and I don't want you to go. You're not going to go, are you?"
"No, Tom. I'm not going anywhere, I promise," Chakotay replied, fighting tears.
"Harry said you'd go. Except I wasn't sure if that was before or after you went to the brig."
"Why would I go to the brig, Tom?" Chakotay asked.
"For hurting me. He kept the records. He said the Captain would put you in the brig if he told her that you hurt me. He said you were dangerous. Said if I left him he'd go to the Captain. The brig's a bad place Chak. It's a scary place. I don't want you in the brig. There aren't any bugs in the brig though. I hate bugs. Did I tell you I hated bugs?"
"Yes, Tom. You did," Chakotay replied gently. "So, Harry has been blackmailing you? Forcing you to stay with him?"
"I don't know," Tom admitted. "He says he only does it to protect me. He said no one could ever love me like he does. That no one else understands me. He said you only loved me because you thought I was what you wanted me to be. Only Harry knows me and loves me anyway."
"Do you love Harry, Tom?" Chakotay forced himself to ask.
"I hate Harry. Harry wants to own me. He tells me what to wear. He never lets me go out. He says he'll destroy you if you ever touch me again. He's jealous and possessive and nasty and he threatens you all the time and I hate him. He's like a bug. I hate bugs. I really hate bugs. Did I tell you-" and Tom's eyes abruptly closed as he fell asleep.
"Well, we have at least established that Mr Paris has an intense dislike of bugs," the Doctor drawled into the sudden silence.
"So do I," Chakotay hissed, jumping to his feet in a fury. "And there is a particular cockroach on board who is well-overdue a stomping."
"I can't believe you did it," Tom hissed furiously.
"Kicked Harry's ass?" Chakotay asked mildly.
"Drugged me, you bastard!"
"It worked. You told the truth. Does it really matter *why* you told the truth?" Chakotay mocked gently.
"You're never going to let me forget that, are you?" Tom griped.
"Your shitty attempt at an apology?" Chakotay laughed.
"Well, I got confused."
"It was the new experience of trying to tell the truth that tripped you up, I expect," Chakotay sniggered.
"You're in a hell of a good mood about it all of a sudden," Tom said suspiciously.
"Well, it probably has a lot to do with the fact that my cock is in your ass, where it belongs," Chakotay snorted.
"Shit, don't say that. You sound like Harry," Tom complained.
"I," Chakotay spat, slamming furiously into Tom's depths, "AM" thrust, "NOT" thrust, "HARRY!" and he rammed the point home.
"You can say *that* again," Tom gasped deliriously.
"Hmph," Chakotay snorted.
"No, I mean it. Say it again. With the actions," Tom pleaded.
"I'd rather say I love you," Chakotay purred, finding a slower, gentler rhythm.
"Oh, yeah, I like those words too," Tom moaned as Chakotay tortured him deliciously with his slow internal stroking.
"Did I really tell the Captain her short hair looked like shit?" he suddenly asked.
"Just about. There's obviously something to be said about diplomacy, after all."
"Shit," Tom groaned.
"Never mind, I'm sure she won't hold it against you for too long. Just the next 30 years, give or take," Chakotay teased.
Then he couldn't hold back any longer. He started to speed up again until he was slamming into Tom, reclaiming, repossessing, what had turned out to be his all along if only he had been able to see it.
"TOM!" he screamed as he came, and it was a benediction, a forgiveness, an affirmation and a declaration of love.
He collapsed to the bed and drew Tom carefully into his arms, mindful of the sensitive spots where the knives had pierced Tom's abdomen and chest. Nothing remained now of the wounds but thin red scars that would quickly fade but Chakotay knew he would never forget them, would never again let pride and self-righteousness prevent him from claiming what was his.
As Tuvok had said. Tom was unique. Infuriating, aggravating, deceitful and manipulative. He was also the owner of Chakotay's heart and he may as well accept the fact.
"What's going to happen to Harry?" Tom asked quietly.
"When he gets out of sickbay, you mean?" Chakotay purred contentedly.
"I can't believe the Captain let you do that to him," Tom repeated.
"I told her he slipped," Chakotay said innocently.
Tom reared up in bed and looked at him in complete disbelief.
"You lied? You, holier than thou, all liars are scum of the universe Chakotay, actually lied?" he demanded in shock.
"Well you know what they say, don't you, babe?"
"No," Tom said suspiciously. "What do they say?"
"If you can't beat `em, join `em," Chakotay sniggered.
"You don't *really* mean that do you?" he asked in a small voice.
Chakotay reached over and pulled him back into his arms.
"No I don't, Tom," he said seriously. "And you're on warning that the first time I catch you lying to me again you won't be able to sit down for a week."
"You'd really beat me?" Tom asked wide-eyed.
"You bet your sweet ass, I will, Tom," Chakotay said sincerely. "But I tell you what I won't do."
"What's that?" Tom asked.
"I won't leave you," Chakotay promised. "I'll never leave you again."