Restoring the Image
Summary: Tom and Chakotay return from an Alternate Universe where Tom has been kept for five months as the personal slave of a sadistic Captain Chakotay.
SPOILERS Warning: The Backstory: Tom and Chakotay, in separate shuttles, are swept into the Alpha Quadrant via a wormhole. Unfortunately, they have arrived in an alternate universe Alpha Quadrant. Tom is captured by Captain Chakotay's Empire ship and forced to be his slave. Chakotay ends up in Alliance space and eventually learns what happened to Tom and mounts a rescue. Although Tom has not been completely broken by the AU Chakotay in the five months he was held, he is badly damaged emotionally and sexually. An aphrodisiac administered by the AU Chakotay just before the escape leaves Tom sexually needy, yet crippled by his conditioning so that he can not meet his sexual needs by himself. In the shuttle on the way back to Voyager, Chakotay, knowing how much he loves Tom and regretting that it may be the only time to be together, especially under these terrible circumstances, nonetheless, helps Tom to receive the relief he needs. I pick up the story while they are still in the shuttle en route to the Voyager crew (for whom it has only been two weeks due to time dilation effects in the wormhole). Both Tom and Chakotay have slept for a few hours and Voyager is not too far away.
Disclaimer: These folks belong to Paramount. This alternative ending story is mine, but so many of the elements that make it up come from an anonymous another who read and commented on this story. Copyright 1998.
Warning: R for male-male relationship, language and intense, disturbing situations, violence. If you are uncomfortable with this, please read elsewhere. Lots of angst.
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Tom woke slowly, his body sore, stiff, and depleted. He managed to suppress the groan that began deep in the most intimate parts of his body. That hated aphrodisiac had been forced on him again. Chakotay had used him repeatedly, the older man's stamina derived from a pill. But, thanks to gods who probably didn't exist, he hadn't been beaten or whipped this time. Not surprisingly, Chakotay's broad mass bracketed one side of his body, the big man's forearm across Tom's chest. Puzzled, Tom struggled with the chaotic traces of a dream of escape from the Alternate Universe's Captain Chakotay. But that couldn't be, Chakotay slept next to him, possessed him, as he had every night for the past five months.
Then, with effort, the events of hours earlier began to return to him. His Chakotay had showed up, the man he'd been attracted to before the Alternate Universe had happened to him. To Tom's deep shame, the AU Chakotay had actually offered Tom to his counterpart. After Tom had pleasured the commander, Seska had signaled his Chakotay that it was time to escape. With Tom's help, his Chakotay had overpowered the AU Captain. The only problem that had remained was that Tom couldn't leave the AU Captain. Tom wore a collar that inflicted heavy, even paralyzing, pain. He couldn't be at any distance from Captain Chakotay's arm bracelet, a bracelet that activated the pain and that would act autonomously if Tom got too far away from it.
Oh, gods. His Chakotay! Chakotay had chopped off his counterpart's hand and grabbed the bracelet! At this memory, a sob escaped from Tom. He'd been rescued, his Chakotay had rescued him. Unstoppable tears flowed from his eyes and his body shook from the silent weeping that was all that he could allow himself.
He stiffened, but no amount of will could halt his tears when Chakotay stirred beside him. The big man's arm moved and light glinted off the hated bracelet on his wrist. Tom hiccuped as he tried to prevent any more sobs from wracking his body. Chakotay simply gathered Tom in his arms and held him close to his chest, rubbing Tom's back and murmuring soothing words. Through his misery, Tom heard the big man say, "Let it go, it's okay to cry, let it out, you can cry, Tom, it's okay, I'm here, I have you now."
The soothing words and comforting strokes broke the dam of Tom's pent up emotions as wild torrents streamed from his eyes and his body shuddered and rumbled with cries from deep inside him. He heard his own name 'Tom' and not the hated 'Thomas' that Captain Chakotay had called him. At first he felt confused to hear the name 'Tom', but with Chakotay's arms around him he cried now over the identity that had been stolen from him. Chakotay held him tightly, never wavering in his warm touch and gentle assurances. As Tom began to calm, he felt Chakotay tear off a cloth and use the soft fabric to wipe his face, lightly brushing away the tears and helping him to blow his nose into the cloth. Stopping only long enough to tear additional strips of cloth from his undershirt, Chakotay used these to clean Tom's body. Carefully he kept the bloodied cloths out of Tom's sight. Gathering Tom once again into his arms, the big man resumed rocking Tom in a hypnotic rhythm. Chakotay's soothing attentions eased the younger man's partial return from the dark abyss that was the AU in which he'd been imprisoned.
Tom began to tune into the words that Chakotay was saying as the man's fingers caressed his face, "Tom, you were so brave. I don't know if I could have survived what you did. I'm so proud of you." Chakotay hugged him even tighter, crushing him in a huge embrace. Tom began to sputter from lack of air and Chakotay released him somewhat, setting Tom back from him a bit, looking at the pilot with dark, worried eyes. "Tom."
The name was said with so much emotion that Tom wondered briefly if his Chakotay had been replaced with some man from still another alternate universe, one where Chakotay actually cared about him. He wanted so much to believe that he could count on this Chakotay to provide the tenderness that the other Chakotay had so rarely given him. His eyes filled with tears again. As the hot moisture tracked down his still damp face, Chakotay reached out his hand and lifted Tom's face to his. With his other hand, he wiped these tears aside. Tom hated the way he flinched from the Commander's touch. Chakotay must have noticed the reaction for his hands left Tom's face.
"Tom, I want to do everything I possibly can to help you recover from this. If that means you can't stand to see me, I'll understand. If you need to hit me, I'll understand that and I'll let you do it. Well, within reason," Chakotay smiled at Tom, his dimples briefly appearing. "I know it's going to take time, I imagine you're not even sure you're free yet, I'll give you all the time you need. But I want to tell you something. I hate what my counterpart did to you. I know I had only a glimpse of the hell you've been through. In the time I spent in that perverted universe, I came to realize something. It may mean nothing to you now. Hell, it might not have meant anything to you if that hadn't happened. But I want you to know that I love you."
Hearing these words wrenched a wounded cry from Tom. The fates must take delight in how much they could torment him without killing him. He buried his face in his hands and shook his head over and over. He said the first words he'd been able to say since he woke up, "No, no."
Chakotay told him, "I understand, Tom. After what my counterpart did to you, I wouldn't want to hear that from me either."
"No," Tom gasped. Looking up at the Commander through wet lashes, Tom tried to explain. "Before I left . . . I . . . I knew I was attracted to you. When the other . . ., " Tom found he couldn't say the man's name and so the AU Chakotay simply became the Other. "When he was kind to me, I could pretend it was you, and I wanted that . . . But . . . "
Tom remembered how rarely that happened and yet how deeply he was affected by those fleeting moments of warmth and care, how much he craved their return, how hard he sometimes worked to please the Other to receive that affection. So many times his efforts had gone unnoticed or even been abused. But when it happened . . . it made the nightmare go away for a brief time only to have it come crashing back when the Other turned on him, used him, humiliated and degraded him once again.
Chakotay's silence unnerved Tom and he lowered his eyes as he felt the Commander's gaze on him. With a start he realized that he'd been crying on the man's shoulder while both of them were nude. And he felt his skin flush red and hot from his chest through his neck to his face, his ears and scalp. This Chakotay had had sex with him, how many times? And he'd asked for it, been helpless in his need as Chakotay took him over and over until the aphrodisiac had mercifully worn off. Oh, gods, how could he look at the man?
"Tom, what we did . . . there was no other way. There's no med kit on the shuttle. My counterpart seems to have stripped it of everything except the blankets we're sitting on. You were in agony. I couldn't let you suffer."
Bitterly, Tom wondered if the Commander had enjoyed it. As if reading his mind, the big man said, "Tom. I would like . . . someday . . .if you want it . . . when you can decide for yourself what you really want . . . " Chakotay seemed to stumble over his words. "What I'm trying to say, is that I love you. I know I've said that and right now it may be hard for you to believe. Maybe you even hate me, won't be able to stop flinching from me when you see me or when I touch you. If that happens, I'll understand, Tom. I know you need to heal. I know that. I'll try to help you with whatever you need."
Chakotay's words had been spoken softly but with passion and Tom finally looked up. He didn't know what he needed. "I don't know . . ."
Tom felt numb after that initial bout of crying. Yet through the numbness came a terrible fear about returning to Voyager. He didn't think he could bear it if he lost this kindly Chakotay he'd seen only occasionally and longed for so often in the past five months. At this point, he knew that hope was triumphing over experience, but he couldn't help himself. He'd lost so much, he couldn't lose this Chakotay, too. This Chakotay had just declared his love for him. Tom didn't understand how that could be, but maybe the man meant it. Maybe Chakotay hadn't said the words out of pity.
The struggle going on in his mind must have registered on his face for none of his defenses were working. And Chakotay was looking at him with such sympathy. He fought against allowing Chakotay to see even more of his vulnerabilities than the man had already seen, but his need managed to break through the numbness. "I . . . I want . . ." As Tom tried to articulate his need, his recent training stopped him. He wasn't allowed to want anything, was he? Instead, Tom managed to ask, "You love me?"
Tom cried again when Chakotay smiled at him and he almost didn't flinch when the man's fingers gently touched his cheek, followed by a soft kiss to his forehead. The other man's words soothed his worries. "Yes. I love you, very much. It took that Alternate Universe for me to see the truth. Tom, I'm not going to kid you, what was done to you is going to take a long time to be undone. I will stay with you as long as it takes if that will help you. But if you need to push me away, remember, I will still love you. No matter what."
At Tom's nod, Chakotay continued, "We'll be in range of Voyager soon. Let's see what we can find in the way of clothes for you. Maybe there'll be some here they forgot to take."
Tom's eyes darted around the rear of the shuttle. "Okay."
As Chakotay searched the storage bins, Tom sat with his arms wrapped around his knees, his stuffed and aching head against the wall, eyes closed. He startled when Chakotay called his name and reflexively began to scramble to his knees as he'd been trained to do. "Tom. Tom, it's okay, you're safe now. I'm afraid there's nothing here. You'll have to wear this tunic one more time. Can you put it on?"
Tom looked up to find the Commander dressed in the Captain's clothes. For a moment, Tom's heart jumped as the clothes reminded him of his enslavement. He shook his head, he didn't like this careening around in time and place. Panicked, he asked, "Where . . . where am I?"
Chakotay knelt down to Tom's level. "You're on the shuttle. We're almost home. It's all right, Tom, you're safe now."
The clothing fell through his numb fingers and landed on the floor. Tom shuddered, expected to be punished. Chakotay's soft words barely penetrated as the unchecked tremors rocked his body. "Here. Let me help you, Tom."
Instead of being punished, Tom found himself being gently helped into the tunic. During the process, his eyes fell on one of the cloths that Chakotay had used to clean him. He froze in horror. It was heavily stained with blood, blood that could only have come from him. This reminder of his humiliation shut him down even further. He simply curled into a tight ball on the floor and shook.
Chakotay sat back on his heels. Tom was in terrible shape, there was no doubt about that. Worriedly, he couldn't help but notice the fresh blood stains on the blanket. He pulled the blanket up to cover the young man and prayed it would help. Raking a hand through his brush cut, Chakotay wondered if Tom would recover, if he could recover. The Commander hoped that Tom's survival instincts wouldn't desert him. He'd seen some of them in their escape. Tom's will to survive couldn't leave him now that he was safe. It couldn't. Tom was going to need every bit of those instincts during the long journey toward recovery that lay ahead of him.
The comm squawked with the voice of Captain Janeway. "Commander. You're in range now for transport."
Chakotay adjusted the blanket over Tom and reluctantly left the unresponsive lieutenant as he took up the pilot's seat of the shuttle. "Chakotay here. I'm going to land in the shuttle bay. When I signal, I'll need a site to site transport for both of us to sickbay."
"I'll see you both there."
Once he'd landed the shuttle, Chakotay returned to the back of it and gathered the younger man in to his arms. Tom trembled, his eyes seemed unfocused and distant. Then Chakotay directed Voyager to initiate the transport.
They materialized in sickbay where the doctor, Captain, and Tuvok were waiting for them. With Tuvok's help, Chakotay placed Tom on the nearest biobed and carefully wrapped the shuttle blanket around the shivering pilot. Janeway and the doctor closed in, with Janeway stunned at Tom's appearance. Her eyes settled on the gold collar around his neck just above the blue tunic. A ruby earring was almost hidden by his long, wavy hair. Then she took in the dark dilation of his pupils and the almost fixed stare of his eyes.
"What the hell . . .?"
Chakotay turned to her, "I'm sorry, Kathryn. I'll fill you in." He needed to know what the doctor was going to say and watched silently as the doctor ran the medical tricorder over Tom's still shivering body.
Kathryn's gaze joined Chakotay's. "Doctor?"
The doctor was not about to be interrupted in the middle of his medical scan. When he finished, he selected a hypospray and adjusted it, administering the spray against Tom's neck above the collar. The young man's eyes closed and his body relaxed into sleep. The doctor raised the arms on the biobed and adjusted the settings. Only then did the doctor turn to his audience of three and shoo them toward his office away from Tom's bed and possible hearing.
As the group reassembled in the doctor's office, Janeway threw curious looks from Chakotay, wearing such rich and elaborate clothes, to Tom's bed and back again. Her stance told them all that she was waiting.
The doctor began, his voice somber and even troubled sounding. "Lt. Paris is in shock. It's a good thing he got here when he did. He was tortured repeatedly over what appears to be a five month period of time." Janeway looked puzzled at the time estimate. "Most of his injuries were healed shortly after their infliction. He's been beaten, whipped, inflicted with pain that directly stimulated the pain centers in his brain, and," the doctor took a deep breath, "he's been repeatedly raped, as recently as a few hours ago. I will need to do surgery as soon as possible to repair some tearing. And this is not the first time he's had to undergo such surgery in recent months. My scans showed far worse damage in the recent past."
All eyes turned to Chakotay. The Commander swayed dizzily and Tuvok helped him to a chair. "Oh, spirits, I . . . I . . . "
Janeway suggested that the doctor get started on whatever he had to do and dismissed Tuvok so that she and Chakotay could speak alone. Chakotay had turned white beneath his bronzed skin and seemed on the verge of passing out himself. At Janeway's touch on his shoulder he pulled himself together. He was relieved when she brought up a chair and sat next to him with nothing but worry reflected on her face.
"What happened?" she asked, her voice kind, the concern radiating from her body language and clouded grey-blue eyes.
"It's a long story, Kathryn. We were gone for a long time. Five months, although Tom said the readings on the shuttle indicated that it had only been two weeks here. Everything the doctor said is probably true. And some of it I know for a fact is true."
"Do you need anything before we talk?"
He allowed a small smile to corner his mouth, but shook his head. "No. I'd like to get this over with as soon as possible."
Chakotay marshaled his thoughts, intending to tell a coherent story in chronological order, but he kept getting sidetracked by his worry over Tom's condition. All during his narrative his eyes flicked to the window in the doctor's office and then back to Janeway. A screen which prevented him from seeing the doctor's actions only increased his anxiety.
As Kathryn listened to her first officer, it occurred to her that Tom Paris wasn't the only one in shock. Chakotay shared with her the effects of the aphrodisiac on Tom and the effects of the pill he'd taken on himself. He admitted that it was he who had so recently had sex with the young man now in sickbay. Brokenly, Chakotay confessed, "I don't know how many times, he was in such pain and need. Spirits help me, I can't believe this."
Kathryn overcame her own horror and tried to comfort the man in the other chair. "Chakotay, it sounds as if you had no other choice."
"Maybe I should have just knocked him out."
"You had no med kit and given the punishment he'd been subjected to, I don't think physically knocking him out would have been a good idea."
Chakotay's voice was anguished, "Kathryn, he was there for *five* months. And this man with my face, my body, my voice, raped and tortured him and used him for his slave. And then . . . I . . ."
She reached out to him. "Chakotay. You're not him. You didn't try to hurt Tom, you tried to help him. You could have come back without him, but you didn't. You risked your own life to save Tom's."
Angrily, Chakotay told her, "Maybe some day I can believe that." He closed his eyes, then opened them again, remembering, "You should have seen him fly us out of there and into the wormhole where there wasn't a centimeter to spare. He was amazing."
"Granted," and she smiled at the image of Tom threading their shuttle into the closing wormhole, "but what about here? It sounds as if it could be awhile before he'll be fit for bridge duty."
Rubbing his face, sighing in sadness at the long haul that faced Tom, Chakotay agreed, "Yeah, it'll be awhile. Kathryn, I want some time to help him through this. If he'll let me."
She nodded her assent. "Of course. Consider yourself off duty until . . . whenever . . .I guess we'll deal with the timing of your return to the bridge when we need to." She paused, troubled by something and she placed her hand on the first officer's arm and looked at him directly, "Chakotay, what haven't you told me?"
"No secrets, huh?"
"I know telling me about helping Tom, by having sex with him, couldn't have been easy for you," and the Commander mouthed 'no, it wasn't', "but I sense there's something more."
Taking a deep breath, Chakotay told her, "I realized something when I was in Alliance space. It happened on Bajor. Something I'd been fighting, shoving aside, denying . . ." Gathering his courage, he returned her direct gaze. "I love Tom. I told him so as we neared Voyager."
"I see." Her response was noncommital and Chakotay felt the room temperature drop by several degrees. There had always been something between them and, yet also, something not quite there between them. A kind of no one's land existed, waiting for one or the other to act, to step across the gulf of command and hierarchy. It hadn't happened and Chakotay realized that Kathryn knew now that the gulf would never be crossed. She seemed to smooth over whatever momentary reaction she'd had and drew upon her empathy for others. "I'm glad Tom will have someone to care for him as he recovers. But Chakotay, although you've acted as counselor for many on the ship, you can't do that for Tom. It will have to be the doctor or someone else."
"I understand. I don't know who Tom would prefer, perhaps Tuvok, but I'll fill in whoever it is. And it may be moot. There may be no relationship between Tom and myself. Tom may not be able to see beyond the experiences with that Other Chakotay to accept the love I want to give him."
"What will you do if he rejects you?"
"Wait. Be patient. Hope."
Once again, she nodded. "I'll let the doctor know what you've told me about Tom's captivity. It's hard to believe that you and he experienced five months in that alternate universe when it was only two weeks here." She sighed, thinking about the difficult future both Tom and Chakotay faced. But, first things first. "We're going to have to get that collar off him and that bracelet off of you. I don't recommend the same method you used on that Other Chakotay."
He smiled fully for the first time since returning. "No. I wouldn't like that. I believe B'Elanna and Seven should be able to help. In fact, I'd really like these things off before Tom wakes up."
Her glance out the office window showed the doctor removing the screen from Tom's biobed. "It looks as if the doctor is finished. Shall we see what he has to say?"
Chakotay squared his shoulders and followed her out of the office and over to Tom's bed. The biobed arms had been released. Tom looked better now, his color was no longer that sickly shade of grey white that it had been earlier. The doctor had removed Tom's clothes and a sickbay blanket now covered him to his arms. Other concerns had prevented Chakotay from really looking at and seeing the changes in Tom's body until now. With a jolt, Chakotay realized how well muscled Tom's shoulders and upper arms appeared. Tom must have spent his spare time in the AU working out. Good for him, Chakotay thought. In the face of so much adversity, he'd worked to take care of himself.
Chakotay noticed as well that the ruby earring placed in Tom's ear by his counterpart had been removed. He assumed the gold chain no longer circled Tom's ankle either. He wondered if Tom had requested their removal or if the doctor had removed these items when he went to operate because they weren't sterile.
In order to listen to the doctor, he had to self-consciously pull himself away from his visual inspection of Tom's sleeping form. "If I do say so myself. . ." At these words from the hologram, Chakotay fully appreciated that he was back on Voyager, "I've managed to do an almost invisible repair job. He'll be good as new, there'll be no pain and he should be able to use. . ." At Janeway's upraised hand, he paused, "well, I guess you don't need all the details. I will say that while in captivity, Lt. Paris gained some muscle tone and mass, but his weight is a little below what it was before he left. He's not malnourished, but I suspect he found it difficult to eat properly. Now, we must remove that collar and the Commander's bracelet."
"Yes," Kathryn agreed, "we were just talking about that."
"Doctor, when will he wake up?"
"I gave him something to keep him out for about eight hours. He was somewhat sleep deprived and given the condition in which he arrived, I believed sleep to be the best remedy at this point. And with the Lt.'s disinclination to follow my orders on numerous previous occasions. . . "
"That's fine, doctor, I just wanted to know," Chakotay interrupted.
"Now," the doctor told him, "I'd like to examine you."
"I'm fine," Chakotay responded, but at Janeway's stern look, he hopped on a nearby biobed and resigned himself to the doctor's scan. In the meantime, Janeway commed B'Elanna and Seven and requested their presence in sickbay.
By the time the doctor pronounced Chakotay fit, the two women had arrived and went to work on the problem with a minimum of the friction that usually flared up between them. To Chakotay's great relief, they were able to remove the collar safely from Tom and then the bracelet from himself. The captain remained in sickbay and Chakotay knew that it was only her presence that spared him from having to answer B'Elanna's unspoken questions. He knew both B'Elanna and her husband Harry cared for the free-spirited pilot and decided she deserved some sort of explanation. "Thank you, B'Elanna. Tom was captured in an Alternate Universe. That device was used to control him."
She held up the bracelet. "And this?"
"That's the controller I took off his . . .guard." Chakotay looked at both items, his eyes narrowed in thought. "B'Elanna, would you leave those here? Tom may have plans for them some day."
"Ah," she said, and obviously wanted many more details, but the captain intervened.
"Thank you. Both of you."
Clearly recognizing dismissal when they heard it, both women left sickbay as Janeway turned her attention to her first officer. "Chakotay, you look exhausted. Tom's going to be asleep for a while . . ."
"I know. Now's a good time for me to catch up on my sleep. I'd like to stay here and be near Tom."
She thought it over and looked to the doctor for guidance. He had nothing to say on the subject, didn't know much beyond the fact that a DNA match identified Chakotay as Tom's most recent sex partner and the likely cause of Paris' internal injuries. But he didn't know the nature of the relationship, if any, between the two men, and he doubted very much if Chakotay had been the source of the Lt.'s other, older injuries. "I have no objection. Sickbay is often used to house the homeless."
Janeway gave the doctor a mild version of her Death Glare, then swept into his office, clearly expecting the hologram to follow her. As she left the room, she gave a last look at Tom, sleeping under the influence of powerful sedatives, as peacefully as a young child, and at Chakotay on the closest biobed, pulling a blanket up to cover himself. She wished she didn't have to tell the doctor about what she'd learned from Chakotay, but so much of the commander's information concerned Tom's medical condition that she felt she had no choice.
As Chakotay dropped off to sleep, he wondered what Tom's reaction would be when he woke up and saw him. He hoped the younger man would remember what he'd told him, sometimes more than once, in the shuttle. Chakotay loved Tom. But Chakotay knew that he would stay away from Tom if Tom needed to recover outside of his presence.
When Chakotay woke up, he realized the soft sounds he was hearing were those of Tom's crying in the bed next to him. He rolled over and tried to wake up enough to evaluate the situation in the darkened sickbay. Quietly, he asked, "Tom?"
The sniffling stopped momentarily, then Chakotay heard choking sounds as if Tom were trying to force himself to stop crying. "Don't stop, Tom. If you need to cry, it's all right."
Chakotay threw off his blanket and stepped over to Tom's bed. Tom's wet face glistened in the dim light and Chakotay gently asked. "Is it all right if I touch you, Tom? I just want to wipe your face . . ."
Tom nodded, choking again on his tears. He felt Chakotay's large fingers on his face, very light, very gentle, as they brushed away the moisture. Oh, gods, his touch felt so good. Tom reached his hand up and trapped Chakotay's hand in place. How much he wanted this gentleness, but then he remembered his training and the pain, and he let go of Chakotay's hand immediately. He could be punished for what he'd just done. He tried to control his breathing, to stop the fear, as another memory reminded him that he was home on Voyager. This man was his Chakotay, not the Other. He whispered, ". . . sorry. Forgot . . ."
"Sh-h, it's all right, Tom, it's all right." Chakotay wished his words could banish the fear in the young man's eyes.
Chakotay lifted Tom up to him and pressed Tom's face against his shoulder, holding tight to the confused young man in his arms. As if in prayer, Chakotay repeated, "It's all right, Tom."
"Where . . . ?" came Tom's muffled question.
"We're in sickbay," Chakotay said to the top of Tom's head, stroking the long hair. "The doctor fixed you up and you've been sleeping."
Tom thought of all the things he wanted right then, a shower, a chance to see his own room, but he also wanted to do something for Chakotay. He reached his hand out to pleasure the other man. But Chakotay's hand stilled his own, pushed it away. "No, Tom. Not now, not this way."
Dejectedly, Tom allowed his hand to be dropped to the biobed. If Chakotay didn't want this, what did he have to give him? "You don't want me?"
Chakotay felt his heart breaking at Tom's question and gave the younger man a big hug, "Oh, I want you, but let's give you time to recover, what do you say? Hey?"
Chakotay held Tom back enough so that they could look at each other. The big man tried hard to convey to Tom the love that he had for him. He used his eyes and his expression. He stroked Tom's back and hair, all the while speaking soothingly. Finally he caught Tom's eye and said, "I love you, Tom."
At the confusion so apparent in Tom's expression, Chakotay elaborated, "I want you to be reaching for *me*, not him. Do you understand?"
Tom nodded. He did understand. This man wasn't the Other. He had no expectation that Tom was here to serve him. Tom sighed, still not sure what he had to offer this man. He just hoped it would be enough, because he didn't want to lose him. This Chakotay was everything he'd wished the Other had been. And this man said he loved him. He flung his arms around Chakotay's broad back and held onto him as tightly as he could. He didn't know what to say, so he said nothing as he clung to the man who had become his lifeline.
The doctor cleared his throat, letting them know he was there. The lights raised to three quarter power at the hologram's command. "Commander, Lieutenant."
Tom began to slide off the biobed to kneel in front of the doctor, but Chakotay restrained him in place. "It's okay. You're home."
The doctor scanned Tom with his tricorder and announced, "You're fine, Lt., medically speaking. You can get dressed now. I had some clothes replicated for you. And the captain wants you to undergo some psychological counseling."
As he put on the pants and shirt, affixing a comm badge in place, Tom sighed. "I'll be all right."
"That wasn't a request."
Chakotay half expected a wise ass comment from Tom until he remembered the silent, obedient servant he'd found in the AU. He reached for Tom's hand and squeezed it reassuringly. Tom failed to respond and Chakotay let go, wondering if he had created more distress for the young man. This was truly a minefield of unknowns.
"Lt., I'll discharge you now to your quarters. I'm sure there are things you want to do. Return here at 1500 hours and we'll discuss how and with whom you would like to do the counseling."
Without looking up at the doctor, Tom told him softly, "I want Chakotay."
"I'm sorry. The captain said he couldn't do it. We thought I could or perhaps you'd prefer Tuvok . . . But you don't have to answer now."
Tom felt lost. What was he supposed to do? The doctor had said he should go to his quarters. Sliding off the biobed, he realized that he felt fine physically. As he fingered his neck, marveling at the absence of the collar, Tom realized that what he really wanted to do was return to his job. "After I shower, can I . . . can I . . .?"
Chakotay stood by his elbow, concern etched in his face. "What is it, Tom?"
"I . . . I . . . " he found he couldn't tell them what he wanted, that fear was preventing him from speaking up. "It's nothing."
"Would you like me to go with you to your quarters?"
Tom looked carefully at the Commander. The question seemed genuine, without a hidden agenda. He tried to tell the man 'no', but the word wouldn't form on his lips.
As if sensing that he couldn't speak about his own needs, Chakotay asked another question, "Would you like to go by yourself? Just nod."
It took Tom a minute, one during which he felt the eyes of both Chakotay and the doctor on him, but he slowly managed to nod his assent. He wanted to go alone. Once he saw his quarters he was sure he would be all right. Wearing sickbay slippers, Tom crossed the room to the exit. As he reached the door, it swished open and he hesitated and looked back at the two men. Chakotay smiled encouragement at him. The doctor's grimace could have been a smile, Tom wasn't sure. He took a deep breath and left sickbay.
The doors closed behind him as he stood in the corridor and looked around as if seeing this sight for the first time. He tried to tell himself that this was Voyager, he was home, he was safe, but he found himself trembling uncontrollably. He placed a hand against the corridor wall and closed his eyes trying to calm himself. He told himself, 'you're Tom Paris, best pilot in the Delta Quadrant, get a grip. Chakotay's going to come out of there in a minute. You don't want him to see you like this.'
The little pep talk helped and although he still felt shaky he was able to proceed on to his cabin. It was late morning and most of the crew were at their work assignments so he didn't encounter too many of Voyager's crew. Those who saw him smiled and continued on about their business. When he reached his door, he paused before keying in the door code. Inside was sanctuary, his very own room with privacy, safety, his own replicator. He entered and asked that the lights be raised as he pressed his back against the now closed door. His trembling increased and he slid down to sit against the door as great shudders shook his body. Wrapping his shaking hands around himself, Tom trapped them under his arms as he rocked in place.
Tom lost time as he sat on his floor too overwhelmed to get up or move further into the room. At some point his rocking slowed and he slumped limply against the door. He wondered what he was supposed to do. He might be the best pilot in the Delta Quadrant but he was also a medic and recognized that he wasn't fit for duty, not when he couldn't even figure out whether it was okay to get up or move further into his own room or ask his replicator for food. He was going to have to do something. But what?
His comm badge chirped and the doctor's voice interrupted his thoughts. "Lt.? It's 1515 hours. I was expecting you to return to sickbay. Do you require assistance?"
Tom was shocked. He'd lost three hours, more or less, sitting on his floor. In his confusion, he said nothing until prompted again by the doctor. "Um, I'm okay. I . . . I forgot. Can we do this later? Tomorrow?"
"Very well. Tomorrow at 0900."
"I . . .I'll be there."
Oh, gods. Three hours had gone by and he had no idea what had caused him to blank out like that. Realizing he was a little hungry, Tom rose stiffly to his feet and stretched out his back and his shoulders on his way to the replicator. He knew what he wanted to eat, a little comfort food, and braced his arm against the wall as he regarded the replicator. He asked for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, smooth with apple jelly, and a glass of milk. When these appeared, he brought them over to his table and began to look around his room. It looked neat, clean, and totally alien. Sighing, he sat at the table and picked up the sandwich. Uneaten, he put it down and sat back in the chair.
He really wanted to shower, to clean off every trace of the AU that remained on him. He'd do that soon. Shouldn't he eat something first? No, his hands hadn't been washed. He needed to wash his hands. He couldn't touch the sandwich again, not with the dirt of the AU on him. Picking up the glass of milk, he drank from it, a small white moustache forming above his lip. That's what he'd do, he'd shower first.
As Tom got up, the chair knocked back and toppled over. When he reached down to pick it up, he had to pause as a wave of dizziness swept over him. Tom steadied himself by placing a hand on the table. Once he had the chair in place, he looked again at the sandwich. Maybe he was hungry. He just didn't know. Should he shower first or eat first? Paralyzing moments went by as he tried to decide.
His comm badge beeped again. This time it was Harry. "Hey, Tom. Welcome back, buddy. I was wondering about coming by to see you."
"Uh . . . Harry? Uh . . . now . . . it isn't such a good time."
"Okay, I was going to take a break, but how about if I come by after my shift? I'll be off at 1750."
"What. . . what time is it?"
Forty-five minutes since the doctor had talked to him. Where had the time gone? Interrupting his questioning was Harry's voice. "Tom? You there?"
"Yeah. Uh. If you want to come by later . . ."
"So, it's okay?"
Harry told him he'd see him later and Tom stood there wondering why he felt as if he were stranded on a strange planet. Shaking himself a little, he began to peel off the clothes he'd gotten in sickbay and headed toward his bathroom. *His* bathroom, he mused. *His* room. *His* clothes.
The shower felt good as he let the hot water run all over his skin. He soaped himself thoroughly, even enduring the stinging of the soap in his ass. But it was worth it if it would remove every trace of the Alternate Universe and the touch and fluids of the man who had held him captive for so long. He knew the doctor had no doubt used the highest technology in cleaning him up in sickbay but he had to do this himself, he had to feel himself sloughing off the residue of evil. If only it were so easy, he thought.
Finally, he turned off the shower and dried himself with the fresh towel he found in the small bathroom. Wrapping the towel around his waist, he padded into the cabin to find some clothes of his own choosing. He didn't know how long he stood looking at underwear. He hadn't worn any in five months, he couldn't decide. The white? The black? The cotton? The silk? Screw it, he wouldn't wear any. He was able to quickly decide on a pair of sweat pants, pulling them up his legs, noticing the contrast of his now muscled thighs with the memory of how he'd looked all that time ago before he'd been captured. A shirt? What kind of shirt? This was more difficult and he was still puzzling over his choices when his door chimed and it was Harry.
Ah, well, he grabbed a navy blue t-shirt and shrugged into it as he went to the door to let Harry in. Harry let himself in before Tom could reach the door and Tom stepped back, not too surprised. That's right, he reminded himself, they had that kind of relationship. His friend didn't look all that different, but the shock on Harry's face at seeing Tom meant Tom himself must have changed some.
"Harry? Is it that bad?"
"You . . .you've got muscles," Harry said rather tactlessly before he recovered. Then he lied. "You look good, buddy."
Tom didn't know what to say, so he just shrugged. "Well. Come in."
"They told us you were gone for five months."
"Yeah." Yeah, thought Tom, five months that seemed like years.
"Here it was just two weeks," Harry informed him awkwardly.
Harry slowly worked his way into the room. Tom's sandwich sat forgotten on the table, the glass of milk only half drained. After cataloguing these details, Harry returned his gaze to his friend. Apart from the new muscles, Tom actually looked like hell. His hair had been toweled dry and left uncombed, he hadn't shaved, his eyes were reddened and creased underneath with dark pouches. He hadn't fully pulled on the t-shirt and one end hitched up his side, exposing the skin covering his ribs. Tom seemed at loose ends, but pulled himself together enough to ask if Harry wanted anything to eat or drink.
Harry wasn't sure what to say. He was afraid that Tom couldn't pull it off if he did ask for something and he didn't want to embarrass his friend. "Maybe later."
"So, I hear you flew a shuttle through the eye of a needle."
"Yeah, I guess," Tom replied vaguely. That's right, he'd taken the controls of the shuttle from Chakotay and flown them back to the Delta Quadrant.
Harry helped himself to a chair and sat at Tom's table. "Why don't you finish your sandwich? Don't mind me."
Blinking a little at Harry's suggestion, Tom found it helpful to have received some direction. The sandwich was still there. He sat down and picked it up and managed to take a bite. His mouth felt too full and dry. It was hard to work on the sandwich, hard to swallow it. He tried a sip of the milk, but it was no longer very cold. Frowning, he put both the sandwich and glass back down on the table as he finally swallowed the food in his mouth. He didn't know what to say to Harry. "Uh . . . "
"Right. You probably want to know all the good gossip."
"Yeah." Hearing gossip seemed like a good idea.
Harry launched into a detailed explanation of who was seeing whom, reminding him of the relationships that had been in existence two weeks ago and how these had stayed the same or changed over that time. "And B'Elanna and I had a big fight and I moved out for one night. But we got back together," he concluded with a big grin.
Tom looked at him, eyes wide. Although the rest of the gossip seemed very remote from him, this act on Harry's part caught his attention. "B'Elanna?"
"My wife?" Harry prompted.
"The making up went very well."
"Um . . . good. I'm glad." Tom said the things he thought he was supposed to say.
"Listen, you don't look too thrilled with that sandwich. Feel like coming to our place? I'll replicate you a real dinner."
"Um . . . " Tom waved vaguely around his room.
"Okay, some other time then. I guess I'll head to the mess hall. I don't think B'Elanna's off for another three hours or so. Want to come?"
When Tom didn't answer, Harry got to his feet while Tom remained seated. Harry placed his hand on Tom's shoulder and held it there for a moment, gripping tightly and then letting go. "I'm glad you're back."
"Yeah, me too," Tom replied.
"I'll let myself out. Take care, Tom. I'll check in on you tomorrow, okay?"
Tom was barely aware of Harry's exit as he stared down at his sandwich. It was too much trouble to finish it. He felt tired and worn out. Maybe he'd just go lie down. The bed seemed far away but the couch was nearby. Mustering the energy it took to make his way over to the couch, Tom half fell on it when he reached it. "Computer, lights out."
After the computer plunged the room into darkness, save for the warp field lights going by his window, Tom began to feel a little anxious. Suppose something happened and he couldn't see? Maybe he better have a little light in the room, just in case. "Computer, lights at one quarter."
He breathed easier when the lights were raised and crossed his arm over his eyes. He was home, he told himself. So why did he feel so bad? Fighting back tears, he said to himself over and over, 'I'm home, I'm home'.
Tom startled awake. There hadn't been any noise that he was aware of, but there had been a tickling at the back of his mind, like a dream, but not quite. He felt that this was wrong. He shouldn't be here like this, he shouldn't have on all these clothes, he shouldn't be alone. He shouldn't be in his cabin even. He knew where he should be, how he should be, what he should be doing.
He got up, leaving the lights at a quarter and went to the replicator and told it what he wanted. When it appeared, he folded it across his arm and with more purpose than he'd had since he arrived in his quarters, he crossed the room to his door and left the room. Once in the corridor, he strode to the lift and took it to the right floor, exited and headed down the corridor to the right cabin. He commed the door and waited for it to open. When it opened, he pushed past a surprised Chakotay, similarly dressed in sweat pants and t-shirt. Tom hastily took off his own clothes, pulled the short, blue tunic over his head, and knelt in front of the man who would give him the direction he needed.
Chakotay was almost too astonished and too appalled to control himself. The sight of Tom Paris, kneeling in front of him, dressed only in a skimpy tunic was enough to make him very angry, not at Tom, but at the AU Captain who had trained him to act and dress this way. He took a minute before he allowed himself to speak, knowing that he didn't want to frighten Tom with his anger. Finally, he said, "Tom, you can get up."
Gracefully, Tom rose to his feet, his head lowered, waiting for Chakotay's orders. This had to be the answer, Tom thought. Chakotay could use him, he'd do anything.
"I don't understand," Chakotay told him, stepping back just a bit. Tom's hair was mussed, his face stubbled with pale facial hair, yet there was an unexplained serenity in his expression. The tunic's shortness emphasized the long legs and beauty of the man before him. Chakotay steered himself away from those thoughts. He didn't want to go there and create an impossible situation between himself and Tom.
"I can serve you, my lord," Tom spoke simply, as if his actions had been self-evident.
"I'm not him, Tom." Then Chakotay saw the desperation in Tom's eyes, the raw neediness that explained his state of mind, and softened his voice. "Can you tell me what's going on with you? What you're thinking?"
"I've been in my cabin. And I don't know what I'm doing. Sir, I . . . I keep losing time and I can't figure out what to do," Tom's voice was anguished as he tried to convey to Chakotay how much he needed to be needed here. "I thought you . . . You might need me?"
Chakotay wondered what to say to Tom's plea. It was so obvious that Tom was not yet able to function on his own, that he needed help and guidance. In his floundering, he'd turned to the familiar, to his closest contact with the AU, Chakotay himself. Interestingly, although Chakotay knew Tom to be the taller of the two, right now Tom seemed smaller as he waited there silently for Chakotay's next words. "Are you tired, Tom?"
"Yes, my lord." Still the downcast eyes.
Gently, Chakotay suggested, "Please call me Chakotay." When Tom didn't look up, he asked, "Would you like to sleep in my bed?"
"Yes, sir." The voice sounded more hopeful, as if this familiar pairing might help him.
"There won't be any sex, Tom," Chakotay warned him. At Tom's stricken look, he tried to figure out what he could say to make this situation bearable. "Remember what I said earlier, Tom? You need some time to recover from what was done to you. But I do love you, and if it will help you to sleep, you're welcome in my bed."
The words were barely whispered, "Thank you, my lo. . ." Tom caught himself. "Thank you, sir."
"Chakotay, in here, please call me Chakotay."
"Yes, . . . Chakotay."
Chakotay swept his hand out in a gesture that Tom lead the way to the bed. As he reached the bed, unselfconsciously, Tom lifted off the tunic and began to place it carefully on a chair. But Chakotay's arm stopped him. "You can put it back on, Tom."
Biting his lip so as not to ask the question that was on his mind, Tom slipped the tunic back on over his head feeling the fabric settle against his skin, from his shoulders, down his back, to the tops of his thighs. He didn't understand why Chakotay wanted him dressed, but he'd been punished too often, too painfully, to ask uninvited questions. Somehow, Chakotay seemed to guess that Tom was confused and offered an explanation. "We're going to sleep and I think it would be difficult for me to get to sleep if I knew you were nude and lying next to me."
The big man grinned at Tom as if sharing a secret, and Tom hesitantly smiled back, reassured at the words. Like a sleek feline, Tom placed his now partially covered body prone on the bed. Chakotay had to close his eyes and force himself to review section head reports for a moment to make sure he had control of himself. His body remembered the previous time he had lain next to Tom Paris and Chakotay had to promise it relief at some other time, but not now, *not now*. Not at the expense of the beautiful and vulnerable young man in his bed. Finally believing he had himself under control, Chakotay stripped down to his shorts, left them on, and climbed into bed next to Tom. As he did, he saw a flash of uncovered hip where the tunic had ridden up on Tom as the younger man had moved himself into a more comfortable position. He knew Tom wasn't aware of it nor aware of Chakotay's reaction. Turning away from Tom and resting on his side, Chakotay wasn't at all sure that he would sleep this night.
In fact, neither of them got much sleep, Tom woke repeatedly in fear of the Other. Chakotay reached over to reassure him that it was all right, he was safe. He could go back to sleep. For awhile Tom would sleep, then he would be restless again. Sometimes a strangled cry would escape from his throat. Despite the sleeplessness of the night, Tom was ready at 0900 to see the doctor. He was afraid of what would happen to him if he missed another appointment. But on this day, the paralyzing uncertainty that had dominated his time in his own cabin had dissipated somewhat. He felt more certain now that he was in Chakotay's presence.
Tom decided to use Tuvok as his counselor, but Chakotay turned to no one. Falling in love with Tom Paris had put a strain on his relationship with Kathryn, so he ruled her out. Also, he didn't want Tuvok to have to deal with both Tom and himself at the same time because so much of Tom's difficulties stemmed from having been held captive by his counterpart in the AU. And the doctor was simply unacceptable. Tom eventually would be returning to work in sickbay and there was too much Chakotay had omitted from his account to Kathryn that he didn't want either her or the doctor to know about. The means and tools of Tom's degradation had been all too visible in the AU Captain's quarters, the chains, the manacles dangling from a hook on the wall, the whips Chakotay had seen in the man's wardrobe. So he held in his own concerns and quietly went about preparing to resume his duties when Tom was doing better.
Chakotay had half expected, even predicted, that Tom would turn away from him, instead he found the young man in his quarters, cleaning up, taking care of his clothes, changing his linens, generally silent unless spoken to, and often seeming fearful and uncertain. Chakotay had not been able to convince Tom to wear any clothes in the cabin other than the skimpy tunics he replicated for himself on the rare occasions he returned to his own quarters. These outfits provided many opportunities for Chakotay to catch eye catching glimpses of Tom's bare flesh. Sometimes he just wanted to grab Tom and throw him down on the bed and take him. And he knew that was the one thing Tom was expecting, perhaps was even unknowingly provoking with his appearance and demeanor. In this subservient state he'd adopted thanks to the AU, Tom would probably even welcome Chakotay's sexual domination but Chakotay knew it was also the absolutely wrong thing to do if they were ever to have a future as equals.
Instead, when he felt under enough control to allow contact, he would bring Tom over to the couch or chair and settle him next to him, even on his lap when Tom seemed particularly needy. He would stroke the young man's face, massage his shoulders, and give him all the comfort that he could, short of kissing him or making explicit sexual contact. After Tom made several attempts to hold or stroke the older man, and Chakotay firmly, but gently, dissuaded him, Tom finally stopped trying to pleasure him. Chakotay found that the more he held and petted Tom before they went to bed, the easier Tom slept.
As the days went by, they settled into a routine. In the mornings, Tom went to Tuvok for his counseling session. Afterwards, he had holodeck time reserved to work out or practice flying. Sometimes, if a session with Tuvok had been particularly difficult or painful, he went to his own quarters and cried without ever letting Chakotay or anyone else, including Tuvok, know of his misery. With Tom occupied in the mornings, Chakotay caught up on section reports, met with Kathryn to catch up on all the details he was involved in as first officer on Voyager, and gradually began to put in longer and longer appearances on the bridge.
Tom would appear in Chakotay's quarters in the afternoons, change into a tunic, and begin working to make the commander's cabin as clean and comfortable as he could. He would work on replicator meals that he hoped would please Chakotay, and generally they did. When the first officer showed up, he had comfortable clothes waiting for the older man, and would respond shyly to Chakotay's questions about his day. It took several days and considerable patience on the commander's part, but Tom finally stopped kneeling reflexively whenever Chakotay entered the room. Getting him to drop the 'my lord' and 'sir' had been a little more difficult, and a period of time went by when Tom didn't call him anything. Eventually, a few 'Chakotay's' escaped his lips, and when only praise and no punishment followed, these increased in frequency. But he showed no interest in meeting with Harry or B'Elanna or Neelix or anyone else unless forced to by his comings and goings during the day. After asking about this once, and seeing Tom's panicked expression, Chakotay let the matter drop.
In consultation with Tuvok, Chakotay hoped that the failure to be punished, either verbally or physically, would help Tom to regain his confidence. He still saw no glimpses of the cocky, sometimes arrogant young pilot who'd led the way into the wormhole to the AU. He wondered if that part of Tom Paris would ever return. He encouraged Tom at every turn to speak up for himself, to express his own wishes, but Tom almost never spoke unless addressed first. On those rare occasions when he did, Chakotay would praise him, sometimes pat his arm or back very gently, and hope that, like saying his name instead of 'sir' or 'my lord', Tom would realize his contributions were welcome at any time.
Weeks went by and, remembering how Tom's counterpart was a capable young Captain in the Empire, Chakotay began to take Tom into his confidence on some of the routine ship reports and prodded Tom for his thoughts on the matter. As Tom had done with the AU Other, he contributed in ways that advanced the conversation, but was very careful not to overstep the boundaries that would bring on punishment.
After an exchange that gave Chakotay hope that some of the training was breaking down, Chakotay asked Tom what he was thinking. He suggested that they sit on the couch, and Tom settled close to Chakotay, unconsciously giving Chakotay a view of the sleek skin on his uncovered hip as he did. Chakotay put his arm across the back of the couch and Tom leaned back so that his head touched Chakotay's arm. Chakotay tried not to notice how far the tunic had traveled up Tom's thighs.
"So, what are you thinking?" Chakotay repeated his question. Tom's face seemed rather pensive.
Blue eyes met his and Chakotay's heart jumped as he drank in the clear depths, like a mountain lake where you could see all the way to the colored stones on the lake's floor. But then Tom's eyes clouded as he thought about his answer. "I guess I'm wondering when you're going to punish me. I . . . I know the collar's gone, but it's like it's still there around my neck, you know?"
Chakotay nodded and remembered the collar and bracelet he'd left in the doctor's keeping in sickbay. Perhaps it was time to dispose of those objects. But Tom seemed to have more on his mind. In fact, Tom continued with a statement that thoroughly startled Chakotay as if such events were a regular everyday occurrence. "Even though the collar's gone, you could still whip me or beat me. I keep expecting it. But you don't even raise your voice."
"Tom," Chakotay began, wondering how he was going to explain this. He wanted to be honest but he also wanted to retain the boundaries that he felt he needed to separate himself cognitively and emotionally from the Other Chakotay. "Oh, Tom, there's nothing to punish you for. And even if there were, that shouldn't be how we relate to each other."
Tom was troubled. Was this Chakotay so different from the Other? At Chakotay's prodding, he opened up a little more, sensing that it was safe to share what he was thinking. "I keep comparing you to him, to . . . "
". . . to the Other Chakotay."
"Yeah. And . . . it's like I see all this stuff under the surface . . . and it scares me. And then nothing happens and I wonder if I just imagined it."
Tom watched carefully as Chakotay took a deep breath and let it out loudly. "Oh, spirits, Tom. I want to tell you that, yeah, it's all in your imagination, but if I did that, then you'd distrust your own perceptions even more than you do now. Because you're right. There's a lot under the surface. He . . . the Other . . . he represented what could be the worst in me. Someone who could enslave you, torture you, hurt you, rape you . . . I fear that . . . that could be me, really *me*. But I don't want it to be me. I'm appalled at the kind of control he exerted over you, just because he could."
Softly, Tom said, "But you want to. You like it that I take care of you, that I don't give you any grief. And you do want me, I see it. Sometimes like now, but not now, if you know what I mean, I sense that you would like to dominate me physically," hesitantly, worried that he might have gone too far, Tom added, "and sexually."
"Oh, boy, You've . . . a part of me does want that. But, Tom, you should know that I miss the wise ass, the humor, the up-yours attitude."
Tom was surprised and almost grinned, "You do?"
"Yeah, I do. Very much."
Tom took in the sincerity in the dark eyes, the rueful smile that dimpled the big man's face. Then he made the connection. "I get it. If only I'd act up a lot more, then you'd have a reason to punish me. You have to have a strong reason, even though he didn't need any."
"No, no, Tom, I don't think you've quite got it. If you acted up, as you put it, I wouldn't punish you, not like you're talking about. You're not a child, you're an adult and a Starfleet Officer, I wouldn't punish you."
Tom felt confused. "But you want to punish me."
Chakotay picked up one of Tom's slender hands and held it in his wider hand. He looked down at the beautiful, long fingers and played with them for a moment as he tried to frame his response to Tom's observation. Finally, he looked Tom straight in the eyes. "Yes. There's a part of me, a part of me I don't particularly like or want to display, that could pull you across my lap and spank the hell out of you." He couldn't help but notice the way Tom's body twitched. He realized that this was very dangerous ground and hastily tried to clarify things. "There are a number of things I might like to do, but I don't for a lot of reasons. At one point I might have wanted to make love to Kathryn, but I didn't."
Puzzled, Tom asked, "Why didn't you?"
"Because it wouldn't have been right."
"Because she didn't want to?"
Tom was silent. In his counseling sessions, he'd covered some of the things he needed to say to Chakotay with Tuvok. Could he now broach these topics with the commander? Could he tell Chakotay that what he feared, being punished, was also something he needed? As if reading his mind, Chakotay told him, "Don't go there, Tom. You got used to being punished, but that doesn't mean you want it. Think about it, Tom. When you were with the Other, how did you feel when he whipped you?"
Tom remembered. "Awful," he said softly, "I hated it, I hated him. Particularly when he punished me for something that had nothing to do with me. But sometimes I knew I deserved it. Just not . . . not so much."
"Oh, Tom," Chakotay pulled the man's shoulders closer to him, "you never deserved it. Don't you know that?"
Tear filled blue eyes looked off into the distance of the cabin. Tom didn't know that, not really. He couldn't say anything to answer Chakotay's question. The posture of the big man changed, as if he'd decided something.
"I think we need to go to sickbay," Chakotay announced. "How about if you put your sweats on?"
Tom didn't understand this. Why were they going to sickbay? He took Chakotay's question about his clothes as more of an order and obediently changed into a pair of sweat pants and shirt. He would have remembered to do that, he thought with a trace of irritation. He didn't go out in Voyager's corridors in the tunic he wore inside, he knew better. But, intrigued by Chakotay's unexpected break in their routine, he managed not to walk behind the commander as he'd been trained to do but beside him, the way Chakotay had explained he should do on this ship.
When they reached sickbay, the doctor asked about the nature of their visit and since Tom didn't know and wasn't inclined to speak out of turn anyway, Chakotay mysteriously answered, "You remember the items I left with you?"
The doctor did indeed remember and went to his office with the two men following him. He pulled out a drawer and deposited the collar and bracelet on his desk. Tom stared transfixed at the hated collar and felt the blood drain from his face.
"Tom?" Chakotay asked. "Are you going to be all right?"
"Why?" Tom managed to sputter out. Had Chakotay taken all that talk of punishment to heart? Was he now going to put that collar back on him? Oh, gods, why had he ever said anything?
"Tom. What is it?"
A rage that had been suppressed for so long erupted in Tom, how dare he want to put that collar back on him? How could he? He'd trusted this man! His fists balled up and he was on the verge of striking out when he remembered the agonizing pain he would receive if he acted on his rage.
"Tom. This isn't for you. I didn't bring this out to threaten you with it." Tom heard the words but wasn't sure what the commander was really saying. "I think there's maybe something you would like to do to these things. Tom?"
Tom tried to concentrate. What was Chakotay saying? That . . . "What?"
"What do you want to do with them?"
Tom scooped them up and threw them at the far wall. Tears fell unchecked and a loud sob wrenched out from the depths of his anger and fear. Chakotay's hands were on his arms and the man was saying something else. "What?" Tom repeated.
"You can do more than that to them. What do *you* want to do with them?"
"I . . . put them out the nearest airlock . . . phaser them out of existence . . . I don't know! I want to destroy them into a million pieces!"
"Good," Chakotay told him, releasing his arms. "How about if you pick one?"
Wiping his face, Tom tried to think. "Phaser. Phaser on vaporize."
"Although I don't happen to have a phaser as part of the regular sickbay equipment, I believe I could locate one in just a few moments. If you two would wait here . . ." the doctor volunteered.
In the doctor's absence, Tom felt his breathing rate return closer to normal and his heart rate calm as his rage abated. Momentarily forgetting the revisited threat of punishment, Tom demanded, "Why didn't you warn me?"
"I didn't quite expect your reaction. It didn't occur to me that you would believe I would put that on you. I'm sorry."
Tom began to shake, he'd challenged Chakotay and this should now bring about swift and painful punishment. When Chakotay smiled at him, Tom felt unnerved. "What . . . what just happened?"
"You're starting to come back, Tom. It's okay, it's good. Remember, I said I wanted to see more of your wise ass persona? Well, that came close. It's a good start."
Tom blinked. The man wasn't angry with him, wasn't planning to punish him. It would take a bit to understand how this could be happening. Before he advanced too far along in his thoughts, the doctor returned and handed Tom a phaser.
Tom checked the setting and, with shaking hands, carefully adjusted it to vaporize only the objects on the floor by the wall. He aimed. When his hand shook too badly to aim accurately, he brought his hand down. Defeated, he looked at Chakotay. "I can't."
"Give it a minute, Tom. Take a deep breath or two. It's okay."
Closing his eyes and taking the suggested deep breaths, Tom finally brought his hand back up. This time he fired and the collar and bracelet disappeared. He let out the breath he'd been holding, slammed the phaser on the desk, and then ran out of sickbay.
The doctor and Chakotay exchanged alarmed glances. "What's wrong?"
"I don't know," Chakotay replied. "I thought this would help him. But it seems to have upset him instead."
"Maybe he just needs a few minutes to himself."
"Maybe," Chakotay said doubtfully. "Computer, location of Commander Tuvok."
"Commander Tuvok is on the bridge."
"Why are you calling for the Commander?"
"He's Tom counselor, and I have the feeling Tom may need to see him. A lot of things came up tonight. Tom's finally starting to come back to us and I think it may have really scared him."
Chakotay commed Voyager's only other commander. "Tuvok? Chakotay here. I think Tom may need you."
"Of course, Commander. Where is he?"
Chakotay asked the computer for Tom's location. The computer's female voice told them, "Lt. Paris is in Holodeck 2."
"What program is running?"
"There is a security code on the program."
Alarmed, Chakotay asked, "Is the Holodeck secured?"
At a guess, Chakotay asked, "Are the safeties on?"
"The safeties are not on."
"Tuvok . . . ?"
"I got that, Commander. I'm working now to override the security lock-out. I'll meet you there when I have succeeded."
It took almost half an hour before Tuvok could meet the increasingly impatient and increasingly worried Chakotay outside of Holodeck 2. The doctor had accompanied Chakotay, believing from the commander's concern that his services were likely to be needed. He just wasn't sure what form of self-destruction Lt. Paris would have programmed. An icy ski slope, a crumbling rock face, a swamped boat, all of these possibilities came to mind. It wasn't that the doctor had a particularly vivid imagination, but he thought of these things because they had all happened at one time or another to the young pilot.
"Commander," Tuvok had called from the bridge. "You should be able to enter the holodeck now. I'll be there on a site to site transport."
Tuvok had materialized as Chakotay was opening the holodeck control panel to access the door override. "It took you long enough," Chakotay growled.
"Tom is an excellent programmer. He had many levels of encryption."
The holodeck doors opened and Chakotay gasped, stood paralyzed at the scene Tom had programmed. He finally rushed inside, the doctor and Tuvok flanking him. Tuvok ordered the computer to end the program as per his override and the holodeck changed from the AU Captain's suite to the regular holodeck grid. On the floor, collapsed unconscious was Tom Paris, his ripped clothes some feet away. He lay covered in blood and welts from his shoulders to his calves from a vicious whipping.
When they'd first entered the holodeck, he'd been manacled naked to the wall, his bound wrists supporting his weight as he sagged unconscious in his chains. A gag circled his head. And a very large, hugely muscled half Klingon hologram in blood spattered clothes had just stepped back from Tom. He held the bloodied handle of a cat of nine tails whip in his large hand, the whip's thin straps forming a blood stained leather waterfall. All that disappeared when the program ended, except for Tom's tortured body and torn clothes.
The doctor pushed Chakotay aside and didn't need his tricorder to tell him he had to get this patient to sickbay immediately. He called for a site to site transport for himself and Tom and left the others to get there on their own.
Chakotay stood in the holodeck in shock, moaning and swaying. Tuvok gripped his arm and spoke to him, "Commander, I suggest we make our way to sickbay."
Unable to believe what he'd seen, Chakotay mumbled, "I should have known, I never should have brought out the collar . . . "
"Whatever you did or didn't do is now moot. Lt. Paris will be needing us."
Chakotay tried to get a grip on himself. "Tuvok, you've been counseling him every day, did you know he could do this?"
"No, Commander, I did not. Had I known, I would have tried to prevent what just happened. As we walk to sickbay, perhaps you could tell me what precipitated this event."
Somehow Chakotay put one foot in front of the other, totally oblivious to the stares of crew who happened to be passing by. Eventually they reached sickbay. He gave Tuvok the bare bones of an outline of the conversation he and Tom had had in his cabin and then Tom's reaction and rage at seeing the collar and bracelet. "Then, he vaporized them and ran out of sickbay. He went to the holodeck and . . . "
They stepped inside sickbay as Chakotay told Tuvok that Tom must have been planning something like it for a long time. The program had been complete and ready to go, it couldn't have been created in the short amount of time Tom had been on the holodeck this night.
"You are correct. He told me he was doing some holodeck programming and I encouraged him when he told me how therapeutic it was. I did not ask to see what he was doing. Obviously, I will have to be more insistent in the future. I believe he may have more programs like that one and I will endeavor to locate all of them and destroy them."
Chakotay thought that, unfortunately, Tom would just create more. By then they had reached the doctor who had once again placed a screen around Tom's biobed to protect his privacy as he worked on Tom's injuries. The doctor's voice addressed them, saying "Please wait in my office. I'll join you when I'm finished."
Only minutes had passed by before Janeway entered sickbay wearing off duty slacks and top. She spotted the two men in the office and bustled inside. "What's going on? Tuvok, you commed me that Tom could be in trouble."
"I did," Tuvok replied and stood up to speak with her as did Chakotay. "Lt. Paris programmed a holodeck scenario that resulted in serious injuries to himself."
Running a hand through her short hair, she wondered, "What kind of scenario?"
Chakotay answered, his tone bitter and angry, "He recreated the Alternate Universe's Captain's quarters, complete with torture devices and someone to administer them."
"He . . . he didn't . . . "
"The doctor's working on him now."
Janeway was stunned. "Why?"
Shaking his head, Chakotay murmured, "He was so close, so close to coming back to us." He looked at Kathryn, "This is my fault. I pushed him too hard and he panicked."
"Or, Lt. Paris was planning this for quite some time, as you yourself pointed out," Tuvok offered. "I cannot reveal the nature of our counseling, but suffice it to say that he remains a very troubled young man."
"Was he trying to kill himself?" Janeway asked.
"I believe he wants to live, but he is experiencing a great deal of difficulty readjusting to life in this universe."
"Tuvok, please tell me, is it me?" Chakotay was nearly in tears. "Is this happening because I've allowed him to stay with me?"
With as much compassion as he could muster, Tuvok told the anguished man, "I don't know. I don't believe I'm betraying a confidence when I tell you that he speaks very highly of you. But, as for anything else, perhaps some joint counseling is in order."
"Anything," Chakotay agreed, "anything if it will help him. Oh, gods, why didn't I realize . . . ?"
"Because Tom didn't want you to know," Janeway suggested. She placed her hand on his shoulder and tried to comfort through her touch.
Finally taking seats, they remained in the office for over an hour while the doctor worked on Tom. When he finished and joined them, he took his seat behind his desk. If a hologram could said to be distressed, then the doctor was very unhappy. "He'll live," were his first words.
"What can you tell us?" Janeway asked.
The doctor looked from one to the other, Tom's captain, his counselor, and his . . . companion. The lieutenant had insisted that the doctor tell the others what he'd done. Paris hadn't wanted to tell them himself. "I won't pull any punches. When he regained consciousness he told me he programmed one of the guards he'd encountered on the AU Captain's ship with our computer's full knowledge and repertoire of punishment and torture techniques. He said his intent was to find ways to counteract these by having the hologram attempt to enact them at random. Only on this occasion he took the safeties off and," the doctor paused, "he lost. I asked if he intended to lose and he told me that he didn't know. The Lt. became more upset and said he couldn't remember. In a few minutes, the tranquilizer I gave him will begin to take effect."
"What about his injuries?" Kathryn asked.
Here the doctor looked grave. "The hologram overpowered him, beat him with fists and heavy boots, stripped him, and hung him on the wall by manacles. Then he beat Lt. Paris with a whip with many straps, a cat of nine tails, he called it. Unconsciousness resulted when the hologram used the whip handle to rape him. This action caused internal bleeding and potential infection." Although he tried to retain his usual sardonic detachment, all of them could tell that the doctor was upset. He was totally serious when he suggested, "I believe Lt. Paris' counseling time should be increased."
Completely shaken at hearing the details of what Tom had programmed for himself, Chakotay asked, "Is he still awake? Can I see him?"
"He wants to you see, Commander. He asked me to keep him awake until he had the chance to speak to you. As I said earlier, you have a few minutes."
Chakotay was out of the office before the holographic doctor had finished speaking. Chakotay slowed as he neared Tom's bed. The figure on the bed was pale and tightened his lips when Chakotay leaned over him. "I'm sorry," Tom whispered. Tears fell from brimming eyes, "I'm sorry."
"No, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have shown you that collar, I should have listened more . . . "
"How could you listen? I haven't been able to talk much." Tom's eyes closed, causing a flood of tears to cascade down his face.
"Tom, Tom . . . I need to know . . . did you want to die?"
Tom shook his head, spraying tears. "No. Believe me, no. I just . . . fucked up."
Chakotay took his hand in both of his and squeezed. He tried a small laugh. "So you fucked up, huh? I'm glad that's all it was." Then he turned very serious. "And I do believe you. But, please, please, if you get upset like that again . . . talk to Tuvok, talk to me, anything but that . . ."
Very seriously, Tom told him, "I'm . . . I think I can . . . tell you now . . . what I need."
Squeezing the hand that he held so gently, Chakotay assured him, "I want to know. I'll be waiting."
Tom was drifting off to sleep by the time the trio from the office joined them. Tom was able to give them a general, "I'm sorry," and then he was asleep. Tenderly, Chakotay arranged Tom's hand at his side on the biobed and patted it with one of his own. Then he looked at the doctor. "When can he leave?"
"Tomorrow. I'd recommend a counseling session in my office beforehand."
"Consider it done," Chakotay agreed as Tuvok nodded.
"Keep me informed of his condition," Kathryn said to all of them. She swallowed hard as she took in Tom's face. Although asleep, he didn't look at all peaceful or childlike this time. He looked like someone who'd been through hell, and might not come back. She shook her head, very unhappy with this turn of events, then turned on her heel and left sickbay, closely followed by Tuvok.
Chakotay grabbed a blanket and prepared the nearest biobed to Tom's for his own. He wasn't going to leave Tom alone tonight.
With Chakotay settling in, the doctor dimmed the lights and returned to his office to file his report and to update the lengthy medical file on Tom Paris. This was one entry he made with great reluctance.
Chakotay woke up before Tom did in the morning and showered and shaved in the sickbay bathroom, dressing in the same clothes he'd had on the night before with the exception of some newly replicated underwear. He replicated a complete set of clothes for Tom, hoping that Tom would prefer to be in regular clothes rather than a sickbay gown, a gown that too closely resembled the tunics he'd been wearing in his quarters. As Chakotay returned from the bathroom, he found the doctor checking out Tom.
"How is he?"
"I'm fine," Tom spoke up for himself, irritation edging his voice. He tried to sit up and the doctor placed a hand on his chest to keep him down.
Chakotay smiled to himself, thinking how much Tom had sounded like the man he remembered from before the AU.
"He's recovered from his injuries. Commander Tuvok will be here after you've had some breakfast."
Tom made a face, whether over the idea of a sickbay breakfast or Tuvok's imminent arrival couldn't be told. Tom noticed the grave look on the doctor's face, the worried frown on Chakotay's forehead and realized full well how much he'd put them through. "I'm sorry, Chakotay."
The first officer came closer and took one of his hands in Chakotay's still damp one. "We'll talk about it, Tom. But let's have some breakfast first. What would you like?"
Tom couldn't answer that question. "Anything."
"Please, Tom, try to think of something that *you'd* like."
Chakotay seemed very serious with his request and Tom dredged up a memory of food he'd liked in the past, back when life hadn't become so complicated or painful. "Pancakes?"
Chakotay grinned at him, "Great choice. One set of pancakes coming up. I put some clothes out for you in the bathroom. When the doctor lets you get up, maybe you'll want to shower and put them on."
Finished with his scan, the doctor grudgingly let Tom go and returned his instruments to the proper location. Chakotay went about replicating breakfast going somewhat beyond pancakes. "I'm going to set this up in your office," Chakotay told the hologram.
"Everything else has been set up in there, what's one breakfast?" As the doctor got a look at the trays of food Chakotay was replicating and taking into the office, he asked, "What army are you planning to feed?"
"Just Tom and myself."
"I see," the doctor sniffed. "For a moment there I thought the entire crew were going to descend on sickbay."
Chakotay just grinned at the doctor's baiting and continued to set up the breakfast. He waited in the office for Tom's return and was glad to see that the young man had shaved, combed his hair, and dressed in the clothes he'd laid out for him. Tom stopped dead when he caught sight of the breakfast. "Who else is coming?"
"Very funny, the doctor's already commented. You're a little late with your critique." But Chakotay took heart at Tom's attempt at humor. It was almost the kind of wise ass remark he remembered that Tom used to make. "Help yourself."
Tom sat near the commander and helped himself to pancakes, syrup, scrambled eggs, fruit, juice, and milk. He looked around, missing something, but hesitated to bring it up. He'd scared himself a little with his 'who else is coming?' remark. Chakotay had taken it well, teasing him back, but he didn't want to push his luck. "What is it?"
Chakotay must be watching him like a hawk to have noticed. "Um, coffee?"
"Not now." Unspoken was the idea that there was work to do that could be hampered by the stimulant.
Tom dug into his breakfast, feeling like eating for the first time in a long time. He wondered if the doctor had given him something to encourage his appetite. When the doctor wandered in to marvel at the sight of the enormous breakfast occupying his office, Tom looked up with a question in his eyes.
"Doc, did you give me anything?"
"Of course, Lt. Quite a lot of things."
"Well, like what?"
"Antibiotics, painkillers, antidepressants, antianxiety compounds . . . My analysis of your neurochemical levels indicated a need for the latter two . . ."
"Just curious. I'm sure you're right."
The doctor frowned, not used to a Tom Paris who would agree with him. He left the two men to their own devices. For his part, Tom didn't know what he wanted to say to Chakotay. Similarly, Chakotay didn't want to push anything with Tom until Tuvok showed up to provide some guidance and boundaries.
Tom helped Chakotay clean up as they danced around each other until Tuvok arrived. They arranged their chairs in a triangle with Tuvok a little more distant from Tom and Chakotay than they were from each other. As they did this, Tuvok explained to Chakotay that they were using names, not ranks, in these counseling session. Chakotay simply nodded his understanding. The relationships among them were complicated enough. Once seated, Tuvok steepled his fingers under his chin and looked directly at Tom. Under the commander's silent scrutiny, Tom blushed. "I'm fine," he told the Vulcan.
"I am relieved to hear that. Tom, I believe there are some things you've told me that you need to share with Chakotay. And Chakotay, I am sure you have some things you need to share with Tom. If not right now, then later in this session. Neither of you are at fault for what happened last night, but we must see that it doesn't happen again."
When neither spoke, Tuvok took a slightly different tact. "Tom, you were here last night and vaporized a collar, the same collar you wore as a prisoner in the Alternate Universe. Then you proceeded directly to the holodeck and engaged your program without safeties. It is important to understand what you were thinking and feeling when you left here and did that."
"Yeah," Tom began, drumming his fingers on his thigh. "I figured that'd be the first thing you'd ask. I don't know what to say."
"Say what was true for you."
"Chakotay and I had been talking about punishment and stuff like that. Then I find myself in here and he brings out the collar and bracelet. At first I thought he was going to put the collar back on me and the bracelet on himself." Tom looked at Chakotay apologetically, "I'm sorry, Chak, but . . . that's what I thought."
Chakotay looked stricken. He remembered Tom's reactions, his rage. He realized now that Tom really had believed it, even if only for a short time. "Tom, I swear to you it never crossed my mind, never. There couldn't be a situation that would ever justify the use of that collar."
"I know that. Now."
"Go on," Tuvok urged the pilot.
Tom took a deep breath. "After I vaporized the collar and the bracelet, it felt so wrong. I expected it to feel good, you know, vanquishing an enemy and all that. But I knew, I knew with everything in me that I had done something very, very wrong and that I would be punished severely for having done it. And then I thought, well, I have that holodeck program where I've been trying to overcome everything thrown at me and now would be a good time to use it. You know, to show myself that I could avoid being punished, that I didn't have to take it, that I had some choices."
Tom's voice faltered as he remembered his confusion on entering the holodeck, the overwhelming sense that he would be punished coupled with the strong urge to show them, *him*, the Other, that without the collar he couldn't be controlled. "So, I took the safeties off. Gods, I don't know how I could have been so stupid."
"Can you describe what happened?"
"I told the doctor to tell you last night . . . do I have to?"
"No, not now," Tuvok assured him. "But let's be clear about what happened. The guard you programmed with knowledge of torture encountered you on the holodeck, overwhelmed you . . ."
In a small voice, Tom confessed, "I thought I could take him." Defensively, he added, "Hell, I'd been working out, I was trained by Starfleet . . . I forgot, he'd been trained by the Empire. And he was a lot bigger and stronger than I was. The guard was half-Klingon!" Angry with himself, Tom exclaimed, "Shit, I can't believe I was that stupid!"
"I find it unproductive to characterize yourself in such terms. I believe your description that you were confused is far more accurate. But the holographic guard overpowered you?"
"He beat the crap out of me. I landed one blow. One," Tom reflected. "He didn't even flinch."
"Obviously, you are an excellent programmer."
Tom tried to laugh at the Vulcan humor. "Thanks, Tuvok, I needed that."
"And after he beat you," Tuvok prompted.
Tom shut down. He didn't want to relive this. It'd been a mistake, a huge mistake. And he'd suffered for it. He felt deep shame at the sight that must have greeted these men when they'd found him. He wondered if they found him before or after the guard used that whip handle on him. He didn't think they'd arrived beforehand, but they sure as hell hadn't been spared the results.
Chakotay looked at Tom's stubborn expression and the pain in the blue eyes and silently appealed to Tuvok to move on. As much for Chakotay as for Tom, Tuvok asked, "Tom, do you know why I am pursuing this?"
Tom shook his head, his face crimson from the embarrassment at what he remembered and what he knew they had seen. He couldn't look at either of them.
"There must be some acknowledgment before you can get past this. As painful as this is, a trauma, such as that which you experienced, will only continue to hurt you if it is left inside you to fester."
"But . . ." Somehow he wanted to spare Chakotay. The man had tried so hard to help him, had put up with his mistakes, his silences, and this . . . this spectacle he'd made of himself last night was how he repaid the man's kindness. "I . . . Chakotay . . . "
Tuvok took Tom's inarticulateness as signaling an important statement that Tom needed to make to Chakotay. "Talk to Chakotay. He needs to hear what you have to say."
"Oh, gods, Tuvok . . ."
"It will help if you speak to him," Tuvok insisted.
Miserable, his face still flaming from shame, Tom turned to Chakotay. He saw only interest and kindness and maybe pain on the commander's face. "I'm so sorry, Chakotay, I am so sorry."
Chakotay looked at Tuvok as if asking permission to speak and when Tuvok nodded, Chakotay reached out to Tom, touched him lightly on the arm, and said, "Tom, you were trying to do something to help yourself, but I pushed you too hard, and it made you confused. Don't blame yourself."
The commander noted that Tom didn't flinch from him, nor did Tom show the deep seated fear he'd seen before in the young man's eyes. Instead, Tom continued to display the overwhelming sense of shame that this topic evoked in him.
"But what you saw . . . He . . .he raped me with a whip handle. The pain . . . " Tom broke down crying at the memory. "And I programmed him. I did it . . . What kind of . . . you must think . . ."
"No, Tom, I don't think anything but how brave you are. You are. You're one of the bravest people I know. I can't believe the courage it has taken you to come back as far as you have from that Alternate Universe. What happened . . . it had to have been so awful for you . . . trapped in your own holodeck program."
"When I tried to tell the computer to end the program, the guard gagged me. I couldn't get the words out soon enough. Oh, gods, it was . . . it hurt so bad . . ."
Chakotay couldn't sit still any longer, he moved over to gather Tom in his arms, comforting the sobbing survivor. He told Tom over and over how brave he was.
Eventually the sobs abated and Tom slowly returned to them. After some nose blowing and face cleaning, a drink of water, and a few moments of silence, Tuvok spoke up. He thought he would try to move on to some of the precipitating events before returning to the holodeck program. "Tom, you and I have been talking some about what you want from Chakotay. Maybe now would be a good time to tell him."
Mostly recovered from the recall of his trauma, Tom looked at Chakotay who'd now returned to his seat but hadn't settled into his chair. Instead, Chakotay sat perched on the edge as if ready to jump to Tom's side at any moment. "Yeah, okay. I can try." Tom looked down, struggling to find some way to get the words out. "I . . .I want . . . oh, gods, I don't know. . . "
He appealed to Tuvok and said, "Maybe this isn't such a good idea."
Tuvok tried to ease him into it. "Try telling him what you've told me about how you see him. What you feel about what he's done for you."
"Oh," okay, Tom thought, that would be easier. "I . . . you . . .Chakotay, you've allowed me to practically live in your quarters. You've never so much as raised your voice at me, even when you should have. And, okay, maybe you're right, maybe I don't deserve punishment. And, gods, I'm grateful, I've really needed everything you've done for me. But you've been like this patient saint."
Chakotay tried to stop a smile but it escaped anyway. "Too good, huh?"
"Yeah. I mean, it's like being with someone who isn't real."
"That was some of what you were trying to say last night, wasn't it?"
"Right," Tom agreed, glad that Chakotay was making these connections. It gave him the courage to voice something he'd tried to say nonverbally but hadn't been successful in getting his message across. "Look, if you don't have sex with me soon I'm going to go right out of my mind. Sorry, Tuvok."
Tuvok remained silent, silently applauding Tom's taking this step. Chakotay looked as if he were going to explode.
"All right. Think of it this way. I know you wake up in the mornings needing release. What do you do about it?" Before Chakotay could answer, Tom told him, "You go take a shower and I assume you jerk off and you're fine. Am I right?"
Chakotay sputtered and turned a reddened shade of bronze. When he could speak, he slowly nodded his head. "Yes, I do what you described. But I'm not fine with it."
"But I can't," Tom told him, the pain breaking through the anger. "I still can't bring myself to . . . to touch myself that way. I've tried, gods knows, I've tried. And I wake up just like you and I can't do anything . . . I want your help."
Tom tried to calm his breathing. He'd just flat out asked for something that had been forbidden to him and he feared Chakotay's reaction. Waiting for Chakotay to say something was almost too hard to bear. He wrung his fingers nervously and found his leg bouncing in a staccato rhythm.
"Tom. I'm sorry. I didn't realize." At those words, so softly spoken that Tom had to almost strain to hear them, he felt some stirring of hope. When he looked at Chakotay, the big man still seemed embarrassed. Chakotay continued, "I was so afraid that anything involving sex would hurt you, would set back your progress . . . "
"At first, you were right," Tom admitted. "I would have really lost it if you'd let me do what I wanted when I first started coming to your cabin. You told me you wanted me to reach for you and not him. And somehow you knew back then that I was reaching for him."
Tom paused, trying to read the big man across from him. All he saw was tenderness and concern. It helped him to continue. "But that hasn't been true for awhile now. I can distinguish you from him. At the beginning it was like you were simply the nice side of the Other. But now I know you're you, this is how you are. Well, mostly. I'm not sure you're always as perfect as you've been acting. It's just . . . I couldn't tell you. You told me in the shuttle coming back that you loved me, but you haven't told me that again since my first night back. I mean, I know you've said a lot of nice things, you've always found something to praise me for, but . . ."
Chakotay heard the hurt in Tom's voice. "I was afraid you would think I was saying that to coerce you into having sex with me. I'm sorry, Tom, I didn't think." Softly, he added, "I do love you. Very much."
Tom had told Tuvok but he hadn't told Chakotay, afraid the commander would reject him since he hadn't reiterated his words of love. Tearfully, almost defensively, Tom confessed, "Well, I love you, too. And I don't say that to anybody."
Chakotay returned to Tom's side and pulled the pilot to his feet. Holding Tom's head in his hands, Chakotay told him, "I don't say that to anybody either. I love you, Tom."
Tom hugged him, spontaneously and joyfully. When Chakotay hugged him back he was sure everything would be all right now. He was ready to ditch Tuvok and return to Chakotay's quarters. Then Tuvok spoke up, "Tom, Chakotay, if we could resume . . ."
Much to Chakotay's surprise, Tom challenged Tuvok. "Why? He loves me, I love him, what's to resume?"
"I realize that you are a romantic, but this exchange of words and the possible subsequent actions you might take with each other as a result of them are not by themselves going to make everything all right. This is not a holovid."
Chastened, Tom sat back down, but he couldn't help stealing glances at Chakotay who was also taking his seat. He knew something very important had happened. He'd actually been able to tell Chakotay what he needed from the big man and he'd found Chakotay responding in the way he had only been able to dream of before this session. But now Tuvok seemed bent on destroying the mood.
Tuvok realized it was time to return to the holodeck program if he was going to move Tom from his belief that everything was now all right. Even if Tom hadn't been able to face it yet, Tuvok knew how close Tom had been to being killed by his own creation. If it hadn't been a suicide attempt, it had come very near to it. "Tom, I'd like to talk more about the holodeck program."
"Why?" Tom snapped, "You want to make one for yourself?"
Chakotay was more than a little surprised at Tom's attack. As far as he knew, this was the first time Tom had taken the offensive since he'd returned from the AU. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat. Tom's reaction was so strong, he wondered what the young man was covering up.
Tuvok ignored the barb and concentrated on Tom's emotional state. "You seem upset."
Suddenly, Tom was on his feet, pacing the tiny office, clearly agitated. Tuvok's next words provoked him further, "What's going on, Tom?"
Whirling on the seated Vulcan, Tom's face was flushed, his eyes dark, nostrils flared. "Don't you understand that I was humiliated? Having you both find me like that . . ."
"When you were with the Other, isn't that how you felt most of the time? We've talked about this," Tuvok reminded him. He saw the acceptance in the slight slump of the defiant shoulders. "You told me you were constantly feeling humiliated."
"Yes! Yes! Is that what you want to hear?"
"Where's the anger coming from?"
A cry of a cornered animal tore from Tom's throat and he threw himself full tilt at the wall, hitting it with his head and shoulder, then bouncing off. Both Tuvok and Chakotay were on their feet and almost instantly by his side to prevent him from doing it again. He struggled against their grip on his arms and his torso, but they were too much for him and he began to sob with unworldly cries that echoed off the walls of the small office.
The doctor came to the window and looked in but left after it seemed as if the two commanders had the situation under control, each with their arms wrapped around Tom, holding him as the storm of emotion threatened to tear him apart. They heard Tom's anguished words, "I did it to myself, I did it to myself."
"Sh-h, you're safe now, Tom, you're going to be okay," Chakotay murmured to him as Tuvok removed his own arms from around Tom and allowed Chakotay to hold Tom tightly to him. Tom could no longer remain on his feet as his overloaded emotions made his legs too weak to stand. Curled over Chakotay's arms, he allowed himself to be lowered gently to the floor, Chakotay following him down. Surrounded by Chakotay's arms and broad chest, Tom gave in to the shame that had crippled him so completely. He wept against that shoulder, his body convulsing so thoroughly that he was without connected bones in his body.
It was as if he'd been standing in knee deep water at the ocean's edge only to be engulfed by a sudden, enormous, curling wave sweeping him off his feet, under the water, tumbling him over and over in the awesome power of the wave's forward and backward churning motion. Finally, the waters receded and he found himself bent around a large anchor that emerged from the scourged, sandy bottom. He clung to this anchor as awareness gradually returned and his wrung out body sent signals of pain and need to his soggy brain.
Tom opened his eyes, blinked in the light, saw Chakotay's chest, smelled the big man's scent of fear. Uncertainly, he managed to push away a little and glance curiously at his surroundings. The sickbay office. Tuvok. Chairs. Chakotay still so close that he couldn't see the man's face. He knelt on the floor. They both did. Tuvok hovered nearby resting on his haunches, ready for something. His head hurt, his shoulder ached. Had he really thrown himself into the wall? What had he done this time?
He became aware of a soft, circling motion on his back. Chakotay's hand. He moved back enough now to see the big man's face. The fear was masked, if it was still there. Tom saw with absolute clarity the man's love for him etched in the lines of his face, the tatoo seemingly reconfigured into entwined hearts. Dredging in huge gulps of air, Tom felt reality returning as he collapsed back against the sickbay wall, too spent to move any further than that. He sat there, eyes closed for a moment, arms dangling off his upraised knees.
"Tom?" It was Chakotay's voice, quiet, caressing.
Gaining more control with each breath, Tom managed to tell him, "Just . . .give me a minute." After another deep draft of air, sounding as if he had a head cold, he added, "I'll be okay."
Tuvok brought him a clean, cool cloth and some tissues. Doing the best he could to repair the puffiness in his eyes, the clogged feeling in his nose, Tom wondered about what had just happened to him. He hadn't expected the intense reaction he'd had to the holodeck experience. "You were right," he acknowledged to Tuvok in a subdued voice. "I guess there was more."
"It should help to talk about it," Tuvok encouraged.
Chakotay gave him a hand up and they each began to return to their seats. Tom felt so drained, he wasn't sure he could walk, much less sit upright in the chair. Sensing Tom's fatigue Chakotay stopped himself and matter of factly held Tom by his waist and helped him to the chair. He placed a hand on the back of Tom's neck and when Tom looked up at him, he smiled down at the younger man. "You going to be okay now?"
Tom nodded, grateful for Chakotay's support. He briefly touched Chakotay's hand before Chakotay returned to his own seat bringing it closer to Tom's chair before he sat down.
"Tuvok . . . I don't know what happened," Tom told him honestly.
"You said that you 'did it to yourself'. What did you mean by that?"
Buying time, Tom asked, "I said that?"
Tuvok simply waited him out. Chakotay reached over and gripped Tom's shoulder.
Tom shuddered. His voice hoarse from crying, Tom tried to explain. "There was another reason why I did the program." Facing this darker side of himself brought out the shame once again. Almost whispering, he acknowledged, "It was there in case I needed it."
There. He'd said it. He as much as admitted that he'd gone in there to be punished, possibly even killed. "I don't understand it. I don't know why." Tom struggled with his dark, self-destructive impulses. "It's like . . . if no one was going to hurt me, then at least there was the hologram to do the job. But I mean, that's sick, isn't it?"
"It was familiar, Tom." Tuvok let that interpretation sink in, then observed, "You talked about how much you hated being punished and tortured, how much it hurt you and humiliated you. What else might it have done?"
Tom tried to remember. "Sometimes, afterwards, someone, Miller usually, sometimes the Other . . . someone would take care of me."
"How did that make you feel?" Tuvok skipped over the identity of Miller. It wasn't important.
"Like I mattered?"
Tuvok nodded encouragingly and asked, "What else did the punishment do?"
Tom frowned. Another memory surfaced. "Mostly I knew that what happened, the beatings, rapes, all of that, I hadn't done anything to deserve it. But . . . but sometimes I thought . . . you know, Tom Paris, Alpha Quadrant screw up, responsible for three deaths, slut, traitor . . . disappointment, horrible disappointment to my family . The Other called me a whore, a slut, told me I was meant to be a sex slave. Little did he know about my real past." Tom's bitterness came through clearly. "I knew I was being paid back for all the things I'd done. You know, in my past? Even my father . . ." he stopped abruptly not wanting to go there. Tom blushed furiously and brokenly told them, "It. . .It just seemed right."
Tom fought back the tears that once again threatened. "It was right. That's the thing." Miserably, he told them, "I did deserve it. If I'd died, at least the pain would have stopped."
Chakotay broke in, squeezing Tom's shoulder in his big hand, "You may have felt that way, but you didn't deserve it. You paid for your mistakes, Tom. Spirits, Tom, you've paid over and over again. There has to be another way to make the pain stop."
Ducking his head, Tom's tears spilled their banks and tracked down his face. In an agonized voice, he explained, "You don't understand. I haven't paid enough."
Chakotay blew out his breath. "No. I don't understand."
"I'll just take you down with me," Tom predicted grimly. "Don't you see? It might have been better if I'd died!"
Chakotay appealed to Tuvok, hoping the Vulcan could speak some sense to Tom. He had never before realized until this moment how much self-hatred Tom harbored and he didn't know how to counteract it. He understood that his love for Tom was not going to be enough. He couldn't give Tom self-respect, that had to come from Tom himself, from Tom's realization of his essential worth as a person in this universe. Why couldn't Tom see that? Instead, Tom sat slumped in his chair as if he were trying to make himself invisible.
"Chakotay, perhaps you could share with Tom what you are feeling right now."
Tuvok meant it when he referred to Chakotay's feelings. Although as a Vulcan he was wedded to the philosophical system that prized logic, he knew, in his dealings with humans, that emotions were too important to ignore. When Chakotay started to explain his theory about how Tom needed to realize his self-worth, Tuvok cut him off, "No. You're lecturing, telling us what you think. What do you *feel*?"
Catching on, Chakotay said, "Feel? So much. Sadness, frustration, and more love than I think I can hold inside myself."
Tom looked up in surprise. He expected his admissions to have driven away any love the commander thought he had for him. "How can you still love me . . . after what you know?"
Chakotay held Tom's eyes and realized that Tom really didn't know the answer to the question he had posed. He tried to assemble his thoughts in some kind of coherent order, then gave up after the silence stretched out too long and blurted out, "Because you are the gutsiest man I know, because you have an inner beauty that shows up in almost everything you do, the way you give and give of yourself. You're the first to volunteer to help in an emergency." Chakotay saw how uncomfortable his words made Tom. "Because . . . because I don't think I could stand to live without you. I need you, pushing my buttons and all."
As Chakotay's eyes remained fixed on Tom's face it was as if some transformation had swept through the younger man. The deadness in his eyes blinked out, to be replaced with a translucent blue like the purest warp core energy. The sag to his features tightened, his shoulders straightened. And Chakotay wondered if maybe love was a place to start. Not the whole answer, not by a long shot, but the foundation on which the rest could be built. He realized that Tom had not seen himself as someone who could be loved. "You haven't believed you were lovable?"
Tears sizzled on the warp core eyes and Tom shook his head. "I knew I wasn't," he corrected, swallowing with difficulty. "No one could love me, no one who really knew me."
Leaning closer, speaking to the soul now barely surfacing, Chakotay told him, "I love you. I LOVE you. It's real, Tom."
Tom threw his arms around Chakotay and hugged him tightly despite the barriers created by their chairs. Chakotay hugged him back, patting him gently. Tuvok relaxed and let go of some of the tension that this session had generated. He realized they had gone as far as they could this day. He believed that Tom's self-destructive impulses were now contained, even though they hadn't been eliminated. He would continue to work with Tom on these issues, but at last Tom had faced them. Now he could begin to do something about them.
When the men's embrace loosened, Tuvok spoke up, "Tom, Chakotay, I think this is a good time to stop. Tom, there's a few things first, however." When Tom faced him expectantly, Tuvok gave him some words of approval, "What you've done here took a great deal of courage. What you've faced has not been easy nor has it been pleasant. But you've worked hard in this session. I wish to commend you. Now, before you go, I must ask a few questions."
"Yeah?" Tom's voice was wary.
"Are you thinking about ending your life?"
"Are you considering how you might do it at some future time?"
"No." This time the denial was edged with irritation.
"If you do start to think of it, what will you do?"
Tom tried to laugh, "Tuvok, I'm not going to do that. It's okay."
"If you do start to think of it I want your solemn promise as an officer in Starfleet that you will first contact me, no matter what time of night, no matter what time of day, no matter where I am or what I am doing. Do you promise, Thomas Eugene Paris?"
"You're serious," Tom wondered in surprise.
"Very serious. Do you promise to contact me immediately if these thoughts or feelings reoccur?"
"That is not what I asked of you."
Tom realized that Tuvok was neither going to be deflected nor allow him to get out of there without extracting Tom's word on this. There wasn't going to be a loophole left if he became overwhelmed, if he felt as if he couldn't go on. Tuvok was going to make sure of that. Tom realized, too, that this was a serious commitment on his part. If he gave his word, he would keep it. "I promise."
Tuvok nodded thoughtfully. "Tom, Chakotay, I would like to see Tom again in the morning as usual. Although I believe she knows this, I will convey to the captain that her first officer will not be on duty today."
Chakotay grinned. "No, I don't think I will be."
Once Tuvok left, Chakotay turned to Tom and helped him up. "Come on, I've got a bed that I think you'd like to visit."
"Think so, huh?" Tom smiled tiredly. "I'm not even sure I have enough energy to walk there."
"Then we'll just transport ourselves there."
"Hey, that's . . ."
"Who's the first officer on this ship?" Chakotay teased.
"Oh," Tom replied, "some big guy throwing his weight around."
With an uncharacteristic leer, Chakotay told him, "You haven't seen me throw my weight around."
Breathless, Tom said, "I hope today is the day."
Chakotay closed the distance between their lips. After a hard, deep kiss, he leaned away far enough to tell Tom, "After you've napped, you'll see . . ."
"A nap? That sounds like I'm a child . . ."
"Yes, a cranky child who doesn't know his limits." Chakotay let one hand rest on Tom's back while his other commed for a site to site transport.
Several hours later, Tom woke up. He found himself on his side in Chakotay's bed, dressed in only his shorts, now stretched tight over his excitement. He moaned with frustration. The Other's conditioning had been terribly effective, completely crippling his ability to satisfy himself. His eyes were still closed when he felt the bed shift downward with the weight of another. A cool hand reached out to him and Tom rolled onto his back and gasped at Chakotay's strokes. The sexual frustration was so great that Tom arched up at Chakotay's next stroke and climaxed.
Tom marveled at what had just happened. Chakotay hadn't given him permission to come, but he had experienced that blessed release just the same. And he realized that he wasn't afraid. "I'm not afraid," Tom told the other man, tears in his voice. "Dear gods, I'm not afraid."
Tom's body writhed under Chakotay's light touch and he moaned again as he ached to be stroked by the commander's large hands.
"Easy there, Tom. We have all day."
Kisses rained down on his face, the commander's mouth capturing Tom's before the younger man could say anything. Pushing up, Chakotay told him, "I want to make love to you over and over. Tell me if this is what you want."
Breathless, Tom told him, "Yes, please yes." Then his conditioning kicked in and a frisson of fear shot through him. Shit. It wasn't behind him yet. He lowered his eyes, "I need to serve you."
"We will serve each other," Chakotay said, softly smiling at Tom's hazy confusion. His hand caressed Tom's face. "Trust me, Tom. We'll work through this."
Surfacing, Tom finally looked fully at Chakotay. The big man lay next to him on his side, unsatisfied. Tom knew he could help the commander with that problem. He felt comfortable with his role, therefore, there was no question as to what Tom referred when he asked, "May I?"
Chakotay's grin couldn't have been any wider. He kissed Tom in reply and then lay back. And there was no need to provide Tom with guidance, the younger man proved very capable of sexually exciting Chakotay to the point where the older man's mind could focus only on the electric sensations that short circuited any other awareness.
Satisfaction arrived shortly
"Oh, spirits, Tom, that was . . ." Chakotay's words trailed off. "Thank you."
Tom turned partway onto his stomach, turned toward Chakotay, and nestled his cheek in the saddle between Chakotay's chest and shoulder. He enjoyed the soft pats on his back from Chakotay's idly wandering hand. This felt so good. Unlike similar activities with the AU Other, Tom had wanted to make it good for this partner. The difference was so vivid, coercion versus love freely given, threat versus praise, fear versus contentment.
Although he'd meant it when he'd told Chakotay that he needed to have sex soon, Tom was glad they hadn't tried this when he'd first returned from the AU. He knew with certainty that just now he had been making love to Chakotay as opposed to fucking the Other. He recognized that this was a difference that made a difference because of the sense of fulfillment and peace that filled him now. When he regained some energy, he hoped there would be more. An old thought skiddered across his mind, 'if Chakotay would let him', it said. His body stiffened a little.
"What is it, sweetheart?" Chakotay murmured, increasing the lazy circling motions he was making now against the cooling back of his partner.
"Nothing," Tom tried to get away with making just a minimalist statement until Chakotay called him on it. Tom raised up on one elbow and wondered if he could tell Chakotay.
"Tom, after all we've shared, please don't hold back. Talk to me?"
"I'll try. I was thinking about how I . . .well, I was hoping we'd do some more . . .you know?"
Chakotay smiled happily, "I'm glad you want to."
"And then this warning came about whether you'd let me. I'm sorry."
"Sh-h. Don't be sorry. You're still going to hear that voice, Tom, but tell me each time and together we can fight it. Okay? Together we're stronger than he is."
Tom nodded, so grateful he thought his heart would burst. Chakotay really did understand and he wasn't going to be left alone to fight the conditioning. "Thanks," he said, his voice breaking.
"Come'er," Chakotay wrapped him up and hugged him tightly.
Sometime later Tom was aware of Chakotay's hand caressing his back from his shoulders down to his thighs. The touch was light, sensual, nonpossessive. He felt so good he thought he was in that mythical place called heaven. His moans were like the purrs of a sleepy, contented kitten.
Without saying anything, Chakotay levered upwards and straddled Tom's legs. He reached to the bed stand and coated his hands with massage oil, warmed them against each other, then placed his hands against Tom's shoulders and began to knead the tight knots he found there. As he worked on his lover's back, Chakotay could see the still somewhat tender areas of skin that had been regenerated after last night's whipping. There had been so many welts, so much evidence of violence that had been committed against this beautiful body. If necessary, he vowed to make it his life's work to ensure that Tom never suffered such pain and humiliation again.
Chakotay leaned down over Tom's head and whispered in his ear. "What would you like, Tom? What would make you feel good?"
Tom stirred in protest, the rubbing and massaging had been almost hypnotic and now he was being asked to decide something. He knew what he wanted. He just didn't know if he could say it. Before these same words had been paired with humiliation and pain, but now he was with the man he had chosen as his lover and he wanted to be loved and accepted by this man.
One hand caressed Tom's back. Chakotay's other hand held his own weight as he moved his face forward so that he could be nose to nose with Tom. "Is this what you want?"
"Yes," Tom told him, eyes open, need and arousal dilating the pupils until the blue had almost disappeared from his eyes. "Yes. I want this. Please."
The doctor had said Tom was healed internally, but, nonetheless, Chakotay vowed to go slowly and carefully. He didn't want to hurt Tom the way he had all those weeks ago in the shuttle as they returned to Voyager. Nor did he want to remind Tom of the injury he'd sustained the night before on the holodeck.
As they made love, Tom's melody and Chakotay's rhythm fused into one song,. Then, finally, both men's sweat slicked bodies lay in an exhausted, dripping heap as if only one alien life form had survived the symphonic tribute to their love.
At some point Tom was aware of Chakotay's hands rolling him over onto his back, the big man's face peering down at his as he opened his eyes, surprised to find that he was still here. It was as if all the matter, all the pain in the universe had drained down the gravity of a black hole and then exploded outward in a new universe of light and pleasure and love. He gave the big man a lazy grin. "Hi."
"Hi yourself. You all right?"
Tom grinned more broadly. "Um-hmm. You?"
"I didn't hurt you?"
Although it was difficult, Tom managed to lift his head up far enough to cover those worried lips with a sloppy kiss. Still grinning, Tom answered the question that hung between them. "No. You've . . . you've given me back something that's been missing for a long time. Gods, I feel so good."
His concerns allayed, Chakotay grinned back at the happy young man. "Well, I feel pretty good, too."
"Maybe we can do this again sometime," Tom murmured sleepily.
The commander agreed. It would have to be a few hours or even more. He wasn't as young as he once was. But he realized that Tom was still quite young, with a resilient and capable body. He plotted to have Tom take the initiative later, much later. Although Tom wouldn't have been able to do this when he first came back from the AU, Chakotay thought that today he just might find it fun.
In the meantime, he reached over to the table, brought a wet cloth over to them, and began to run the cloth over Tom's body, cleaning Tom as the younger man moved slowly, languidly, but almost instinctively, to aid in Chakotay's ministrations. When Chakotay finished with his body, Tom sleepily captured the cloth from the other man's hand and ran the cloth over Chakotay's body, before tossing the cloth off the bed, to land wherever such clean-ups fall, to be dealt with later. Whenever.
As Tom began to doze off in sated bliss, his grin remained. It was the last sight Chakotay saw as his own sleepiness overtook him. But Chakotay recognized the grin as pure Tom Paris, that mix of pleasure, cockiness, and sweetness that defined the young man he loved so much. Drifting off to sleep, Chakotay moved to spoon behind Tom's body. Neither man believed that sex had solved the problems brought back from the Alternate Universe. But it had pried open a heretofore barricaded door that needed this sign of love if the barricades were to be tumbled back into the dark abyss that had created them.
Following the holodeck incident, Tom opened up more in his therapy with Tuvok, confided more in Chakotay, and began the hard work of rebuilding his life, which included reintegrating his friends back into his daily routines. He finally abandoned the tunics that he'd worn in Chakotay's quarters since his return from the AU. His need to be punished diminished as he began to understand that this represented the Other's voice and his father's voice, but not Chakotay's nor Tuvok's nor even his own.
To the relief of both lovers, Tom reclaimed his sexuality, leaving behind the disabling dysfunctions that had marked so much of his time since the AU. He gradually returned to his duties on the bridge and in sickbay. For his part, Chakotay became more real in his reactions to Tom and less the paragon of patience. If Tom irritated him, he let the younger man know it and they both dealt with it. Although Tom's insecurities still got the better of him, even to the point of almost crippling him at times, he found he wasn't alone and could turn to the man who loved him above all else to help him get through the bad times.