No Angel Ain't Gonna Greet Me
(inspired by Bruce Springsteen's 'Philadelphia')
When the Doctor called me, I knew that it was already over.Kathryn had that expression on her face, at once sorrowful and pitying. I felt my knees going weak and for an insane moment, I thought that I would faint right there, on the Bridge. I tried to control my rising tears, clenching my hands into tight fists. Sobs broke the silence, Harry's sobs, deep racking heart-breaking sobs.
"Chakotay ..."Kathyrn whispered. "I am ...sorry." She embraced me briefly. "Go.Go to Sickbay."
I couldn't see the rest of the Bridge crewmembers when the turbolift doors closed. My heart had already gone into a thousand splinters.
Tom came down with a deadly virus. At first we thought it was just a simple influenza virus. He developed a sore throat, a high fever and rashes. The Doctor confined him to our quarters, cheerfully telling him that he needed lots of bedrest. Myself, I nagged over him like a mother-hen, massaging his aching joints and feeding him replicated chicken soup.
He recovered well enough to take his usual position at the conn. Then one day, he simply collapsed in front of us, right in front of Kathryn and me. I ran over to him, scooping him up into my arms. He was convulsing and his skin felt clammy.
Kathryn ordered an emergency transport and within a few heart-beats, we were in Sickbay. The Doctor walked over rapidly and ran his medical tricorder. He frowned.
"His immune system is degenerating at an astounding rate, " the EMH murmured. "Get him over to the bio-bed." His tone was clipped.
I waited impatiently, my own soul gone cold, as the Doctor did his usual medical checks on my ailing beloved. Then the news came ...
"I am afraid, Commander, that Mr Paris's virus has mutated. The malignant cells have started ...to eat away his immune system. Even his blood-cells are in chaos, trying to deal with this viral invasion ..." The Doctor's voice was grave.
"What are you talking about?" I found my own throat constricting.
"Have you heard of AIDS?" The EMH continued, his tone getting gentler. "Mr Paris, I believe, has a viral mutation similar to that, though the nature of this virus is still unknown."
AIDS ...I had heard it before. It was the deadliest killer in the late twentieth-century.
It was eradicated by the end of the twenty-first century.
"I will try injecting Mr Paris with a serum," the Doctor said quietly. His eyes met mine for a while.
I swore that I saw pity in them.
Tom regained consciousness the next day and I went to see him. My heart went out to him and I kissed him tenderly. He pushed me away weakily.
"I might be contagious, " he croaked, his blue eyes twinkling."Don't touch me, love."
"Don't give me the 'Tom Paris' wit," I said, a tad harsher than I had intended. "I am genuinely concerned about you!"
He visibly cringed and I was immediately contrite. I hugged him, stroking his soft blonde hair. "I am sorry, love. I am really worried about you ..."
He didn't say anything. His chest rattled as he leaned against me. He muttered in my ear, "Am I dying, Chakotay?"
The question shattered my superficial calm and I grabbed his shoulders, looked him in the eye and said, "You are NOT dying, Tom. Don't you dare say that!"
He laughed softly." I am dying. I can feel it. My body's getting weaker every minute. Oh Chakotay, don't look at me like that ..."
I shuddered and just held onto Tom, tears streaming down my cheeks in hot rivers.
The virus was indeed deadly. Tom did not get any better. He started rejecting food and water, his beautiful body shrinking like a plant without moisture. His wrists were so thin that I could circle them with my thumb and finger. His face was hollow, his eyes sunken. I tried giving him something to eat. Even Neelix chipped in, attempting to concoct some semi-liquid stews for Tom. But Tom vomitted everything out. The only way to get sustenance into his already-ravished body was via intravenous means. It was depressing to see tubes sticking out and trailing all over his body like a spider's web.
The Doctor produced the serum as he had promised and administered it to Tom who watched the actions of the holographic physician with a bemused expression on his thin face. I closed my eyes. His face was the face of the dying.
The fits began soon after. Convulsions. Horrible gut-wrenching convulsions. The Doctor and Kim (who had volunteered to watch over Tom when I was on duty) had to hold him down in order to prevent him from hurting himself. Tom kept complaining about the chill, that he felt incredibly cold. Sometimes he told me that he was in some kind of furnace, burning him over, inside and out. Meanwhile, he was just turning into bones ...
I wanted to tell Tom how much I loved him. I held his hand and stroked him comfortingly while he slept fitfully. He was now a shadow of his former beauty. And my soul wept to see him in this state.
Tom wanted to go to the Holodeck. At first, I protested. He couldn't possibly make it to the Holodeck, given his weakened state. I wanted him to rest, to sleep. Yet when I gazed into his earnest eyes, I saw the crying soul, a soul in pain. So I relented. I carried him in my arms. He felt so light, like a feather. It was as if the life-force in him was already edding away.
"I want ...to ...go to New Zealand," Tom whispered as we stood before the Holodeck.
"New Zealand?" I questioned him stupidly. "Why?"
He chuckled and then doubled over retching. I hugged him as he shuddered and gasped for air. When the coughing fit was over, he continued. "Yes ...New Zealand ...It not only boasts of a penal colony but the scenary is ..very breathtaking ..."
The file name was Paris4.NZ,an obscure program I didn't even realize existed. We stepped into a pristine landscape, green slopes with snow-topped mountains. The sky was an intenses blue, like the color of Tom's eyes. The air was crisp and fresh, sharp as a knife, lancing straight into one's lungs. I was afraid that Tom would start coughing again.
But Tom didn't. He gazed about with a happy smile on his face, taking in the beauty and grandeur. "It's lovely ...beautiful ..." He told me, his eyes shining brightly. "Chakotay, put me down. I ...want to sit on the grass."
I placed him gently onto the grass. Tom kissed me softly on the cheek and then he leaned back against me, looking up into the sky.
"I dreamed last night, love." He said, almost to himself." I dreamed that the angel Raphael came and sat down next to me. He was so pure, so ...white."
"The angel Raphael?" I asked, at once puzzled by the mention of an angel. I never knew Tom was religious or that well-versed in theology. I recalled that the angel Raphael was the angel of the blind.
"He said that I was no longer blind, and that he would lead me to heaven, " Tom said quietly."But I laughed outright in his face ...I told him that *cough* no angel was going to greet me in heaven 'cos of what I am ..."
I could feel him starting to cry and I gathered him into my embrace. My heart was breaking.
"Heaven ...is for the pure and the blameless!" Tom's voice was bitter, angry. "Well, I ...*cough* am not pure nor am I blameless. So that's the reason I told Raphie to get stuffed ..get real! I've done pretty ...horrible things ..." He sobbed.
"Tom ...Tom" I said, shaking my head. "Please ...please"
"Chakotay!" Tom grabbe my arm with a grip that shocked me. " I DON'T WANT TO DIE!!" His tears were dampening his hospital shift."I don't want to go alone. Please, Chakotay, hold me. I ...am ...fading ..."
I burst out crying. The fanatic control, the facade of calm Commander Chakotay had put up for the benefit of the whole crew disappeared. All the frustration, the pain, the anger and the bitterness gushed out in a torrent of tears. Tom cried too and we clung to each other, while the sky was a uncaring blue and the pristine purity of the mountains mocked us.
Kathryn gave me time-off. Voyager was now coursing along in a relatively peaceful strip of the Delta Quadrant. She was with me when Tom went into shock that fateful day. I could still remember her expression of helplessness, how she stood by, her face pitying, as Kim and the Doctor tried to stabilize my ailing beloved.
He was dying. Tom was dying. I railed furiously against the fates and the spirits. Why? Why? Why??!!
As I continued my silent vigil over my sleeping Tom, I studied every lin, every feature of his face. His skin was now pale, sallow. He looksed so thin, awful. He didn't look like the Tom Paris I love. Not the man I turned to, every night, in our bed. I took a half-step back, then stopped. How could I turn away in disgust? No ...I have vowed to protect him, love him, cherish him ...
I condemned the virus. I hated it with every pore, every cell in my body. Because it was taking my beloved away.
I wept myself to sleep.
Now as I stood in Sickbay, seeing my beloved's recently-deceased body as if for the first time, I felt a terrible loneliness fill my heart. He looked so peaceful, like a child asleep in his cradle. His hands held the hawk feather I had given him for his birthday last year. There were tears in his cheeks, still wet, for he was only a few minutes gone.
Oh Tom, I am so sorry ... I slowly walked over and lay my hand on his still-warm face. I am so sorry I was not there with you when you left this world ...Don't blame me, love ...please ...
"I eased his passing, "the Doctor's voice was reverent. "He passed away ...at least without pain."
I wanted to say thank you. But my lips couldn't move. I kissed him for the last time. The daylight within me was fading.
I am alone.
Disclaimer: Chakotay and Paris are the property of Paramount Pictures. This fanfic is a product of my own twisted imagination.