Disclaimers: Part 1
I hadnít even waited for the Admiralís scream of pain; I had turned away and run to help the others to push against the crowd of Dorvanians. It was like trying to move a wall of treacle. Even if we bodily grabbed someone and flung them out of place, still the gap would be immediately closed by another figure.
And, all the time, my friend Tom Paris was hanging like meat on a hook, and slowly, agonisingly, bleeding to death.
I could feel the insidious drugged air sliding down my throat, cloying my lungs, glazing my eyes, and the more I exerted myself against the immovable crowd, the more dreamlike the whole place was becoming. It was a nightmare, and yet impossibly real, and all the more frightening for that.
The chanting of the crowd was rising in volume. I could vaguely hear a word, bak something, Bakbakwalanooksiwae, Bakbakwalanooksiwae, over and over until it maddened me and even then I felt my lips tremble to join in the crazy chant against my conscious will.
Louder and louder, all around me the chanting grew in passion and volume, "Bakbakwalanooksiwae," and then the dying, smoking fire in the centre of the room burst into a wide steady column of white flame, reminiscent of a warp core, that reached up to the pinnacle of the room between Tom and Angelís hanging bodies.
And on the ground, in the midst of the column, in the almost blinding white light, I also saw both Tom and Angel standing upright and circling each other warily.
Their figures were incorporeal, they seemed to be made of the very substance of the fire itself and yet they were distinct within its unwavering flame.
Tom shone with a silvery purity. Angel was somehow Ďblackí light. I canít explain it any better than that. Where Tom seemed to be filled with light, Angel seemed to greedily drink the light around him, darkening it, making it void. Like a black hole he was dragging the light into himself, and as he absorbed it he was growing and expanding into a sinewy, serpentine form.
It WAS Tom, and yet it wasnít. Even before his accident I had never seen such musculature on his body. His chest and shoulders were laced with muscle. Then again, without it he could hardly have been able to carry his magnificent wings. Tom had become an angel, and Angel was revealed to be the very devil himself.
I saw them finally meet and grapple with each other in the flame. Tomís wings were outstretched and they beat with a rhythm that sent rolls of ear-splitting thunder through the room. His face was serene as he wrestled the monstrous enraged figure of Angel. Angel hissed and writhed between Tomís hands like an enraged cobra, as Tomís arms locked around him and squeezed with crushing power.
Angel was striking back in blind panic at Tom, unable to break the vice-like grip. Yet, each touch of Angelís hands on Tom left black diseased marks on Tomís radiant skin. There were soon places, on his chest and wings, where I could see right through Tomís opaque figure. He was literally disintegrating under Angelís assault. What chance did he have when Angelís every blow ripped more of Tomís substance away and only served to make Angel stronger?
Yet, still Tom fought, unbowed and unafraid. For an immeasurable time they writhed against each other and then Angel managed to break free of Tomís weakening grip. They paused, measuring each other up, frozen in their mutual hatred, and then Tom threw himself at his adversary with such sudden fury that he pushed Angel back, right out of the flame. For a moment, Angelís black image flickered and above our heads his mortal body screamed in agony.
He desperately tried to re-enter the column but Tom fixed his feet firmly, his vast wings spread for balance, and he pushed back, refusing Angelís entrance. And Angel began to slowly dissipate. His spiritual form began to warp and collapse, the black light fading into the grey of cold ash, and he turned his dull, dying eyes to a point behind my back.
Tom was winning, he had won, and then, just as his victory was assured, his ghostly, silver eyes finally turned to follow Angelís defeated gaze and Tom saw Chakotay.
Chakotay was collapsed unmoving on the floor. I had done no more than untie him before concentrating on beating Owen senseless. Chakotayís unconscious form had simply slumped into a broken bloody pulp onto the ground beneath the stake. He looked dead, even to me.
And then I saw Tom shudder, and his shining light dimmed.
"NO," I screamed as realisation struck me. "Heís alive, Chakotayís alive."
But it was too late. His frozen despair had allowed Angel to drag himself back into the column of fire. The flames leapt into Angelís Ďbodyí until he rose restored, in black, unstoppable fury. As though the agony of returning to his mortal form had honed his strength and purpose, Angel battered Tomís now unresisting form until it collapsed, and then, one by one, he ripped Tomís wings off his shoulders.
Instead of blood, what poured out of Tom was the silver essence that had powered him. His incorporeal shade began to dim and fade, leaving only a pale, wraith kneeling in broken defeat. With a loud cry of triumph, Angel stepped back out of the column, ready to return now to his body, leaving Tomís spirit to perish in the cold white flames.
And that was when Jacqueline ran.
She burst through the crowd and dove headfirst into the flames. She gently gathered Tomís insubstantial spirit in her arms, kissed his gossamer forehead with tenderness and then flung his shade out of the column. It fluttered in the air like a broken cobweb and then flowed back to his waiting body. She watched it fly with a soft, sad smile and then stepped resolutely back into the middle of the flames.
I saw the edges of her golden hair crisping, as the Spirits accepted her sacrifice.
Jean-Luc charged forwards, only to be caught and held by Riker.
"Itís too late," Will cried, at his Captain, but Jean-Luc broke free with the strength of an enraged bull.
But it was Angel who saved her.
Angel. Whom I had called the very devil himself.
Angel, the man who was prepared to let Tom die, but somehow couldnít find it in himself to let Tomís mother take his chosen victimís place.
At the moment of his victory, he had waited to savour Tomís death and was caught by a conscience that probably even he didnít know he possessed.
His black spirit re-entered the flames, caught Jacquelineís burning body and flung it out into Jean-Lucís arms.
And then his shade changed, the darkness began to dissipate as though this last selfless act had been payment enough for his infamy. His form began to glow with golden fire, even as the flames leapt and bit into him.
He collapsed to his knees as the hungry spirits began to devour his spirit.
And then Will saved him.
By this time, the whole crowd was so stunned by the happenings in the column, that no-one even noticed Will Rikerís approach as, without hesitation, he flung himself into the flame with a rugby tackle that simply knocked Angelís spirit out of it.
The force of the extraction was such that Angelís shade immediately faded and a scream of pain from his mortal body confirmed that he had returned.
"WHY?" Jean-Luc howled at him, as he saw the flames licking up Willís body.
"I made a promise, Sir," Will replied, his voice surprisingly smooth considering the blisters that were rapidly forming on his exposed skin.
And, unable to release Jacquelineís agonised body, Picard could only watch helplessly as the flames took hold.
The elders had already turned away to let Angel and Tom down. The spirits had their sacrifice and Angel had won the conflict. There was nothing more for them to do here.
And I want to believe that if it had been Tom left to die in those flames that I myself would have intervened. That I would have been able to make my shaky, terrified legs move to offer myself in his place.
I WANTED to do it. I WANTED to replace Rikerís agony with my own. But all I could think about was Tom, the fact that he had lost, the fact that he had fought a supernatural battle for his love and that, at the very moment of certain victory, it had been his love that had been his undoing. Tom needed me. There was no doubt in my mind about that. I would have to live with my guilt, with the sound of Willís dying screams, because Tom needed me.
And no one will ever know why HE saved Will, why he took his place. Perhaps it was merely the logical choice of a superior officer to save the life of a subordinate. Or perhaps it was guilt. Perhaps, like me, he realised that Tom WOULD have won if he hadnít given up because he thought Chakotay to be dead. Or perhaps, perhaps, he was simply a good man, after all, despite everything.
But none of us will ever know why Admiral Owen Paris stepped up and entered the flames.
I am in a strange sickbay. Itís apparently located in the Heran Modality ship. I have been told that itís because of the superior medical facilities that they can offer over Starfleet. But, obviously, the truth is that if I had been transported to a Ďfleet ship, I wouldnít just be lying here with tubes in my arms, Iíd be wearing the latest fashion in leg irons too, or maybe simply a straightjacket.
My father already knew that Tuvok had certified me insane. God only knows what he thinks now, having found me mid-Wkangana. I donít know. No one has told me why he let them transport me here. I have no idea of what is going on in the Admiralís head.
Except that this further proof of my ability to be a complete and utter asshole, has probably given him a stroke or something. Heís probably burning my birth certificate in some ritual of absolution. Maybe I should point out to him that Iíve had so many blood transfusions now, that itís unlikely that any of the hallowed Paris blood is still running through my oh-so-undeserving veins.
I would if he ever bothered to come see me. I mean, donít get me wrong, I donít actually WANT to see him. I still have our last conversation recorded for the millennium. I have replayed it over and over in my head so many times that youíd think the pain would have finally dulled. But it hasnít, and I really donít need any MORE shitty memories to cope with. Then again, at least heíd actually take pleasure in telling me what the hell is going on outside this sickbay.
I havenít even got any other patients to gripe to. The Herans have fitted their ship to luxurious perfection. Everything that I have always hated about sickbays, and letís face it Ė I am more intimately acquainted with them than most, have been completely eradicated from this vessel. No big, humiliating room where your ills and woes are on public display. Oh nothing so mundane for a Heran.
Instead, this sickbay has little cosy private rooms, with personal bathrooms and personal vid players and aesthetically pleasing décor.
Shit. I hate it.
I even miss the Doctor. I asked if he could come and see me. They just smiled and refused with infinite politeness and absolutely no explanation. Maybe his matrix canít work with their technology or something. I donít know. I donít know ANYTHING. Thatís the problem.
No one is telling me anything. Other than reassuring me that Chakotay is alive after all, they have told me nothing, and any attempts by me to demand information have been met with kind smiles and silence. They are simply treating me like a petulant child, or a mad man.
And yes, I suppose I must be mad because I remember things that canít possibly have happened, remember Ďbecomingí something other than myself. My shoulders still ache in grief for wings that were never even really there. The doctors say the pain is because of the way my muscles were so badly ripped and mangled by the hooks. Despite the regeneration I have received, it will apparently take days for my nerve endings to recover from the insult. Perhaps thatís why I canít feel my legs.
And yet, inside, I still howl in desolation for the cruel theft of my wings.
Harry says it was the drugs that affected us all. He says that the air of the sweat lodge was so thick with narcotic smoke that it wouldnít be surprising if we all remembered Klingons in pink tutus doing a chorus line.
He is allowed to visit me all the time. The Herans are very kind. They monitor me constantly of course. My first suicide attempt caught them by surprise. They werenít expecting a body as damaged as mine to be capable of further self-harm. At that time, I thought Chakotay was dead. So after they patched me up, they actually let him visit me.
We didnít even manage to speak to each other. He just sat on the edge of my bed, his face still too purple and swollen for speech despite the regeneration of his cheek and jawbones. And I simply couldnít find any words to say. There was nothing left WORTH saying. So he merely held my hand and we both cried. Eventually they took him away and sedated me again.
So, I guess my second suicide attempt shocked them even more than my first. I merely waited until he had left the room and, before the sedative could fully take hold, I managed to unhook the intravenous drip from my left arm and proceeded to create an air bubble in the tube. I was methodically replacing the needle in my arm when they caught me.
They donít leave me alone any more, and Chakotay has not returned.
Heís probably disgusted with me. I know he was unconscious all through my battle with Angel, but obviously Angel has already gleefully told him that I lost and that now he has to pay the price. It probably appals him that I am still looking for an easy way out of the mess I have gotten us all into. I havenít even mentioned him to Harry and to be honest, the way Harryís eyes dart in panic whenever I ask ANY question, itís probably just as well.
They say I will be well enough to move soon. No doubt the Admiral is waiting, rubbing his hands in glee. My long-stay room at the sanatorium has probably already got a brass-nameplate already in place: "Tom Paris Ė Fuck-up of the universe." Theyíll probably keep me there forever like an animal in a zoo. Hell, maybe theyíll sell tickets.
I donít care.
I donít care about anything anymore.
I tried. I bought a dream and like every other damned thing in my life it became a nightmare.
What more could I have done?
I reached inside myself and threw everything I was, everything I was ever capable of being, in one last desperate gamble, and it hadnít been enough.
I remember watching a vid once, "The Flashing Blade," and the title song had said, "Itís better to have fought and lost, than not have fought at all." The Admiral had scoffed at the words. He told me that if you couldnít win you should get out of the arena and let the REAL men get on with it.
And finally, I understand him. Heís right. I had the arrogance to pretend that I was worthy of Chakotay, but in the end, when the chips were down, I fucked up. I lost.
Itís time to get out of the arena.
Beverly says that Jacqueline will be out of stasis shortly. Her third-degree burns have finally been sufficiently regenerated that it will be possible to wake her. Beverly has even restored her golden hair and eyebrows so that there is no physical mark of her trauma.
It is the one point of hope in this whole sorry mess.
Tom, Chakotay, Angel and Will are all being treated by the Herans: Tom and Chakotay because they are relatively safe there, Angel for obvious reasons and Will because Plano insisted. Given the number of minor injuries to the away team and the problem of Jacqueline, I agreed to his Ďrequest.í
I am still not certain of what really happened down there. Apparently, there was so much narcotic in all of our bodies that we canít trust ANY of our memories to be real. Beverly and Deanna both maintain that we were subject to a mass hallucination. They say that the injuries, and Owenís death, were just the terrible consequences of drug-induced hysteria.
The fact that the anomalous electrical storm ceased and completely disappeared at the precise moment of Owenís death can simply be put down to coincidence.
Only the Wkangana ceremony itself can be proven. The amount of damage that both Tom and Angelís bodies suffered cannot be discounted. The Herans say that Angel will make a full recovery. Already his enhanced genetic structure has compensated for the injuries and he is walking around reasonably comfortably now. As for Tom, well, physically he could be better.
The trauma and blood-loss, on top of his already weakened physique, has somehow undone a large part of his alien cure. The cure had been holistic. It didnít matter that the hooks had only pierced his chest; the permanent effects of their damage went straight to the weakest point of his body. The hours of dangling, bleeding, suffering the ripping of muscles and the tearing of sinew was more than even Heran medicine could heal. He will never walk again.
Itís not all bad, the Herans say. He does have full use of his body other than his legs. Even his Ďpersonalí functions are in his control. It is simply the motor functions necessary to move his legs that have gone.
The Herans and Beverly have discussed replacing his legs with advanced prosthetics. It is POSSIBLE that they might help. Yet, the idea is too obscene for me to contemplate yet. The idea of my son being butchered and rebuilt as a cyborg is beyond my capacity to face at the moment.
More to the point, it is beyond Tomís.
He has attempted suicide twice in the last 24-hours. I used to think that suicide was a cowardís way out. That it was a way of running away from pain because you were too weak to face it. I was wrong. No one could possibly be any braver than my son has proved himself to be. So his wish to die is merely a genuine representation of how vigorously he wishes not to live without his husband.
He lost, apparently. It turns out that the Wkangana was a battle between Angel and himself for Chakotay, and he lost.
And as much as his pain rips at my heart, still I also envy him a little for having found that mad blissful state of love where survival without your loved one becomes impossible.
Except that heís completely wrong.
Chakotay will NEVER leave him. Angel has won NOTHING.
Unfortunately, there is no way to tell him. The Herans are now monitoring him 24/7 and so no one dares tell him what is going on. Instead, we have told him nothing. He doesnít know Owen is dead. He doesnít even know Jacqueline is here, and he certainly hasnít been told who I am. Perhaps he never will be told that last thing, after all.
His adoptive father, Admiral Owen Paris, finally died as a hero. Who am I to steal whatever comfort Tom may gain from that fact when he is finally strong enough to be told? I will talk to Jacqueline and together we will decide what, if anything, Tom can be told now.
Why havenít we told him ANYTHING? Several reasons. Firstly, we still donít know what Starfleet is planning to do. I DID finally receive my answer, but it told me nothing. It turned out that the long delay in receiving a reply was because Admiral Necheyev had already set off for Dorvan before my message arrived at headquarters. It took nearly a day before some clerk finally noticed the Ďpriorityí code and forwarded it on to her.
And her answer was simply, "Wait. I am on my way." Six words, just six damned words and my sonís life is at stake!
Plano graciously agreed to wait in orbit until the Admiralís ship arrived. He was remarkably good-humoured about it until the other Ďfleet vessels moved in to cordon us off. It didnít matter that we were not planning to move anyway. The very fact that they dared to prevent the eventuality incensed the Heran Senior. He immediately called for back up.
So now there are eight Federation vessels and six Heran ships in orbit over the tiny planet of Dorvan, all sitting with itchy trigger fingers and waiting for the Admiralís arrival, and I have no idea of what the outcome is going to be.
I gave my word to Plano that, should the Federation refuse to pardon Chakotay, I would not stop the Herans from taking him. I will not break my word. On the other hand, I did not say I would actually help them, nor did I say that I would prevent anyone elseís intervention.
When you have lived in the diplomatic world as long as I have, you learn to be extremely careful of exactly what promises you make.
You also learn to be a pretty shrewd judge of character, too, which is why I havenít said anything to Harry Kim. I have seen the way his eyes slide nervously whenever I look at him and have noticed his conspiring huddles with his Ďmaquisí colleagues.
I have said nothing, but I HAVE sent Data and Geordie over to the HPTS to do some Ďmaintenanceí on the yachtís engines. By tomorrow the little ship will be capable of Warp 9, her shields will have been modified with the Heran cloaking technology, and the Helm will have been raised 13 centimetres to allow a wheelchair to slide underneath.
I awoke from a dream of pain to blissful numbness. I raised my hands to my face in wonder. The blackened, charred stumps of my nightmare were gone, replaced by the smooth, slightly pink gleam of regenerated skin.
I was alive. I could barely believe it. I had accepted my death and suffered a torment I cannot begin to describe. Believe me, whatever anyone ever says, there is no pain so intense, no death as horrendous, as burning alive.
Yet I lived.
I felt a cup pressed against my lips and I drank deeply and gratefully, my body greedily grasping for liquid to replenish my seared flesh. Perhaps my burns were gone, but my bodyís instinctive needs were not. I drank to quench a fire that no longer raged anywhere except in my memory.
When the cup was finally drained, I turned my head and instead drank in the vision of perfection that had offered me such sweet relief.
It was an angel, I decided. I was dead after all and I had gone to some afterlife in which there was no pain, no fear, and beings of such perfection that my breath caught in my throat.
"Angel?" I whispered in query.
"Yes, I am Angel," the being replied, "You are on my fatherís ship. We brought you here to heal your wounds."
Realisation struck me. This wasnít a heavenly being. This was Angel himself, the man who had tried to kill Tom Paris. Yet, I could not equate the black sinister demon of my memory with this chastened, beautiful figure whose golden eyes dipped in nervous humiliation from my gaze.
"Iím sorry," he muttered, and there was so much pain in those two words that I knew he wasnít only talking about my own injuries.
"Why?" I asked him, and although it was a single word, it demanded so much of an answer that I saw him visibly crumbling under the weight of my demand.
Why did you do what you did to Tom? Why did you do what you did to Chakotay? Why did you let Chakotay suffer that way? Why did you let Janewayís lies be believed? Why did you try to kill Tom? But most of all, for some reason the only question that I really wanted an answer to was: Why did you save Jacqueline Paris?
"I didnít understand. I thought I loved him," he finally whispered.
"You THOUGHT you loved Chakotay?"
"I didnít understand. He tried to tell me, TOM tried to tell me. The moment I arrived on Voyager Tom showed me what love was, but I didnít want to see it, didnít WANT to understand."
"What happened?" I asked gently. I had expected to find a monster in Angel, yet all I found was guilt and pain.
"As soon as I arrived, Tom saw Chakotay and I together and assumed that he had lost. He simply walked away and then slit his wrists. Then, when Chakotay nearly died and he woke screaming for Tom, I still didnít see it. I let Tom believe that yet again Chakotay had chosen me. Again, he walked away. Then he tried to sacrifice himself to let us all escape the wormhole. I didnít stop him for the right reasons. I tried to take his place just to prove I was a better man than him. And that in itself proved that I wasnít, didnít it? Over and over, he did what he thought would make Chakotay happy. It destroyed him, but still all he could see was Chakotayís needs.
"But I was blind to all of it. When Tom and Chakotay left DS9 together, all I could think of was how to get Chakotay back. I was insane with jealousy. I actually preferred the idea of Chakotayís death than that he should leave me. I canít fight, as you know. I couldnít actually raise my fists against either of them, so I used my brain instead and deliberately manipulated the Dorvanians into supporting my claim. Then Tom interfered again. He used my own weapons against me and demanded the ritual of Wkangana.
"He thought the idea would terrify me. He knew I had no ability to physically defend myself. But he made a huge mistake. The very gene that prevents Herans from fighting, also blocks pain. When the Wkangana pierced my chest, after the initial agony, my mind immediately shut down the pain, distanced me from it. I decided it was merely a matter of time. I was slowly bleeding to death but so was he, and he was so much smaller, so much weaker, and his body thrashed and writhed with the agony he felt, which only served to speed his blood loss. I, on the other hand, was in only minor discomfort and knew that I had won.
"And then suddenly I wasnít in my body anymore. I was pure energy and I could FIGHT! All I wanted to do was kill him. I wanted to eradicate him as though he had never existed. But he was stronger than me. I couldnít believe it. He pushed me out of the flames and the shock of returning to my body was agony. So I fought to return, but I couldnít, he was winning, he was killing ME, and I couldnít stop him."
"So what happened?" I asked. Of course, I had been there, but my perspective and his were so different. I was both horrified by his words and simultaneously impressed by his honest admittance of his shameful deeds.
"I was dying. I turned for a last look at Chakotay. I wanted him to SEE my death and grieve for me, perhaps even save me. Only it was too late, he was already dead himself or at least that is what I believed. Then Tom followed my gaze and saw what I saw. He suddenly froze and the fire went out of him and I managed to get back into the flames. I went crazy. Somehow, I blamed Tom for Chakotayís death. I beat him to his knees and I tore his wings from his body because I knew that nothing I could do to him could hurt him more. He didnít even TRY to stop me. And then I stepped back to gloat, to watch him die.
"You see, even then. Even THEN, I still didnít understand. It wasnít until his mother threw herself into the flames to save him that suddenly everything became clear."
"What became clear?" I asked with surprising pity.
"That if you love someone, you donít kill for them, you die for them."
"What about Neelix? Will he be coming with us?" I asked Harry.
"Iím not sure. I donít think so. Heís still on Dorvan organising the search parties. He refuses to give up hope," he replied sadly.
"If the holo-emitter was still intact, the Enterpriseís sensors would have found it. It must have been smashed to pieces in the storm."
"I know, but Neelix says he wonít believe it until he finds those pieces."
"Good for him," I replied, pleased that Neelix had no more intention of giving up on the Doctor than I had of giving up on Tom. Sometimes it simply didnít matter how slim the odds were, you still took them.
"Besides, I think he wants to stay. He seems happy now your family has invited him to stay with them, Chakotay."
"Iím not surprised. Now thereís another group of unsuspecting victims to suffer his culinary Ďskillsí. At least he doesnít have any Leola root. Theyíd never forgive me."
"More to the point, do YOU forgive THEM?" Harry asked gently.
"I donít know," I answered honestly. "I know WHY they did it, and I love them for it, but still. Even if things had turned out differently and Tom had won, the ends still wouldnít have justified the means. My mother saw Tomís heart, she saw his soul, and she foolishly trusted that it would be enough. On the other hand, she didnít know the details about Tomís paralysis. She had no way of knowing that the alien cure would be reversed by the Wkangana."
"He STILL hasnít asked why heís bed bound or why he has no feeling in his legs," Harry interrupted.
"No?" I asked in surprise.
"He hasnít even mentioned them. I think he knows somehow, in his subconscious at least, and is deliberately refusing to face it. The Herans think that is one of the reasons for his suicide attempts."
"Theyíre wrong," I replied. As arrogant as it might sound, I knew EXACTLY why Tom didnít want to live anymore. I knew without the slightest doubt that even were he completely returned to his former quadriplegia then still Tom would want to live, but only if I were with him.
"How are the preparations coming along?" I asked briskly to change the subject. The enforced separation from Tom, especially since I had no way of assuring him that my heart was still his, was hard enough without discussing him, even with Harry.
"You wonít believe what Geordie has done in engineering. He can practically make the warp engine sit up and beg. Heís more intuitive than scientific, I think. He really understands what makes a ship tick. Like Ė" his voice trailed off.
"Like BíElanna," I finished for him gently. "Donít be afraid to speak her name, Harry. It is living in our memories that makes her immortal."
He returned my smile and continued. "We now have a Heran cloaking device. I SWEAR Captain Picard knows exactly what we are up to."
"Iím sure he does, but letís not mention it, hey."
Harry nodded his understanding. He had told me everything, up to and including the amazing revelation that Picard was Tomís real father. I hadnít spoken to the man myself. I wasnít sure I was capable of the necessary civility yet, if indeed I ever would be.
I appreciated his help on Dorvan and I agreed with Harry that Picard was surreptitiously helping our planned escape. Even so, I couldnít forgive him.
I understood WHY he had let Tomís mother marry Owen. I even understood why he had never revealed himself to Tom. I accepted it all. Everyone made mistakes. Everyone had regrets. The thing I couldnít forgive him for, however, was the fact that had Wabashaw known that Tom was the son of Picard, rather than Paris, then the Wkangana would never have taken place.
"Have you spoken to your mother?" Harry suddenly asked.
"Yes, this morning," I replied. "She told me that the Dorvan Government was prepared to support me against the Federation, that they would vigorously oppose any attempts to arrest me, and asked me to give her love to Tom since she wouldnít be able to see him again before we leave."
"So the Elders havenít changed their minds?"
"The spirits have spoken, Harry," I spat in disgust. "The Elders agree that Tom has a warriorís heart, they accept that his blood is free from the Paris taint, that he is a strong and noble man, and that he is now of the tribe. They also have declared my marriage to him void. They will not act against the decision of Bakbakwalanooksiwae. Simply put, Tom is welcome on Dorvan, I am welcome on Dorvan, but we are not welcome as a married couple."
"Iím so sorry, Chakotay," Harry said and squeezed my arm in sympathy.
For a moment, I allowed the hurt to remain like a dark cloud and then I shrugged it away. I had no time now for grief.
"It doesnít matter anyway, Harry. Dorvan is technologically backwards. Tom canít live there now. Heíd be an invalid on Dorvan. On a Starship or in a more advanced society, he can still live an almost normal life. If we get through this, and Picard can make Starfleet see sense, then I will be free to visit my family whenever I like."
"As long as you donít take Tom with you," Harry griped.
I couldnít blame him for being angry with my people. I was angry with my people. I was no shaman, but still I was sure that they had read Bakbakwalanooksiwaeís decision incorrectly. Perhaps the whole Wkangana had never really been about Tom and I at all.
Perhaps all the Great Spirit had ever wanted was for Owen Paris to be forced to finally pay his blood debt to my people. His signature on the Cardassian Treaty had signed the death warrants of countless innocent Dorvanians and Bakbakwalanooksiwae was not known for his forgiveness of such deeds.
Perhaps everything that had happened had been orchestrated to that single end. The casting of the Crazy Horse and Voyager into the Delta Quadrant, Tomís accident, Tomís and my love for each other, even Angelís obsession. Had all these things simply been planned in the spirit plain? Had we all just been pawns on a chessboard played by vengeful spirits?
And if so, now that it was over, were we simply being forgotten? Our purposes served, had we simply been abandoned alone to try to rebuild our lives again from the scattered ashes?
I didnít know, but I was damned well going to talk to my spirit guide and find out.
My mother came to see me this afternoon. I donít even know how to begin to describe how I feel about that. It DID answer one question that had been plaguing me. I clearly remembered her throwing me out of the fire, but I had put it down to some Freudian hallucination, given the narcotic smoke.
I mean, as far as I knew she was back on Earth flower-arranging or baking cookies or whatever it was she filled her days with.
And, to be brutally honest, even if I HAD known she was in the room, she was just about the last person I could imagine throwing herself in a fire for anyone. Not because she didnít love me or I her. I adore my mother. Sheís gorgeous, as perfect as a porcelain doll, and frankly about as useful.
How such a beautiful woman could be so Ďmousyí had always bewildered me. When I was growing up she wafted around the house like a beautiful wraith, gracing me with gentle smiles and distant waves and the occassional cool peck on my cheek.
Thatís not strictly fair. When I was very small, I clearly remember that she was the one who wiped my runny nose and cleaned my scabby knees. I even had a couple of clear memories of family holidays WITHOUT my busy father, where far away from the constraints of his presence, his house and his servants, she would literally let down her hair and then run and play with me on the sandy beach as though she was a carefree girl.
But those memories were few and too shadowed by the years of her apparent indifference as she towed the party line. She had learnt that sneaking me supper after I had been sent, unfed, to my room after whatever Ďcrimeí I had committed against the Admiral only caused more suffering for both of us.
The only time I saw her try and make a stand against my father was on the day that my Grandmother died. The Admiral had been bundling me into the ground car and my mother had fought and scratched like a tigress to prevent him from taking me to view her remains. It was the only time I actually SAW him hit her, although there were many occasions when Ďmigrainesí would keep her to her room and I always suspected that she simply didnít want the servants to see yet another bruise.
Anyway, she grew distant from me, and the migraines miraculously stopped. I quickly put two and two together and began to avoid her as much as possible. Her love for me was harming her, I was harming her, so I stayed away, and she became this distant beautiful stranger who merely happened to share my house.
The day my father threw me out of the house, she didnít even come to the door.
So yes, I was surprised to see her and shocked that she had done this thing for me. Her hair had the unnatural perfection of accelerated growth; her beautiful features were covered with skin so smooth and perfect that it could only have come from regeneration. I was left in no doubt as to what she had suffered for me.
I was torn between guilt, horror, and a selfish, childish glee that she had finally found me worthy of her pain. Did she really think that this one act was enough to make up for all the years that she had turned away from me? Could one act of love negate years of neglect?
Yes, I realised. It could.
She must have sensed my acceptance, my forgiveness, because she finally relaxed enough to tell me everything.
She told me that the Admiral was dead. That he had only been my adoptive father; that Captain Jean-Luc Picard was my REAL father; that Tuvok was dead; that TíPel had mind-melded with Janeway and discovered her deception; that Admiral Necheyev was on the way, and that Picard was going to try to negotiate some compromise with Starfleet.
And finally, she admitted to me that I would never walk again.
I cried. I just broke down and sobbed, and she held me and comforted me, and for a moment, I was that tiny boy with skinned knees and she was the magical person that could kiss me and make it all better.
I cried for what I had lost and for what I had never had. I didnít cry for my legs. They simply didnít matter anymore. Nothing really mattered anymore without Chakotay.
"Did you see me, maman?" I whispered. "I had wings!"
With a strange feeling of deja-vu, I wandered fruitlessly through the forest in search of my spirit guide, so I was not surprised when I finally stumbled into the clearing where once before I had found my father, and again found him sitting on a rock beneath an overhanging branch. Kolopak was still playing with the bright red-gold eagle tail-feather.
"Iíve been expecting you," he said by way of greeting and gestured to the lush grass at his feet.
Obediently I sank to the floor and crossed my legs, but there was no trace of obedient, dutiful son in my voice when I addressed him.
"You used us," I accused bitterly. "You used Tom, and you used me."
Kolopak lifted his hand so that the sun glinted off the feather. Colors like blazing fire rippled through its length.
"Heís so strong, your Passamaquoddy," he said, "Like this feather. Such a delicate, fragile, beautiful thing and yet it has the strength to give an eagle flight."
A small hiss of anger escaped my lips. I didnít want to hear this, not from HIM. I wanted an explanation. As though he read my thoughts, as he probably did, he finally lay down the feather with a sad sigh and turned to look down as me.
"Yes, we did," he admitted, but there was nothing of apology in his tone.
"This was never about us at all, was it?"
"Not about you, certainly," my father confessed with a sad shrug. "It was always about Tom, though."
"I donít understand."
"Earth is a barren planet, Chakotay. It may look a green, lush, pleasant land once more, but itís just a pretty corpse. Its heart stopped, beat by beat, as each forest was ripped out; each stream was poisoned; each species was driven to extinction and pollution laid waste the great oceans. The earth magic died.
"Kishelemukong, the creator of all things, turned his head away in despair and just as our people were cast out of their ancestral homes by the white man, so one by one the Spirits fled from the sterile, poisoned wasteland, where once had breathed beauty and life. Even Bakbakwalanooksiwae himself cannot manifest himself in a place with no earth magic."
"What does this have to do with Tom?" I demanded.
"The treaty with the Cardassians was signed by six people. Five of them died on the first day that a Cardassian set foot upon our holy ground. Five people, on five planets, in five separate accidents and still no one even made the connection."
"And the sixth was Owen Paris."
My father nodded. "He NEVER left Earth, so the spirits could never claim his blood debt."
"So you used Tom to get to him?"
"The Spirits arranged for Owenís only son to die in an accident in a far off world called Caldik Prime. Yet, somehow, the boy survived and Owen didnít even leave Earth to visit him in hospital. Tom was cashiered from Starfleet and STILL his father did not come after him. Tom returned home and was spurned. The spirits abandoned their efforts to use Owenís son, finally realising that the boy meant nothing to him.
"Then Tom joined the Maquis, joined YOU. Again, they saw an opportunity and it was decided that Tom would die as a Maquis. The shame would force Paris to come and collect his sonís body. Yet, once again, Tom did not die. He was captured alive and retuned to Earth in chains. Still Paris stayed beyond their reach."
"So the Caretaker, the Delta Quadrant, all of that WAS deliberate?"
"Oh, no. As I explained, it wasnít Tom the spirits wanted to destroy. It was his father, at least up until THAT point. It wasnít until YOU recognised Tom Paris on the bridge of Voyager that the spirits even became aware of where you both were. They are not omnipotent, you know."
"It was YOU, wasnít it? YOU told them where he was," I accused bitterly.
My father shrugged. "You HATED him, if you remember, Chakotay. He was your enemy. Of course, I told the spirits where he was. But then, before they could act, he saved your life and your acknowledgement of your own life-debt saved him from their retribution. The spirits decided to leave both of you alone."
"So what happened? What changed?"
"You did, you fell in love with him, the son of Owen Paris himself. The spirits were outraged."
"He ISNíT Owenís son," I shouted.
"I TOLD you the spirits werenít omnipotent," Kolopak replied defensively.
"So Tomís shuttle accident Ė "
"Was no accident," my father confirmed.
"But he didnít die," I replied
"Didnít he?" My father replied enigmatically and picked up the feather once more. "He was CRUSHED, Chakotay," and he closed his hands on the feather. I watched it splinter and collapse in his fist. Then he turned his face towards me again.
"He DIED, Chakotay. His spirit was thrown out of his mangled body so far that it couldnít return. At least, not without the Spiritsí help. Thatís when Tom became the thunderbird."
"So you are saying the Spirits then HELPED him? Brought him back to life?"
"Because they suddenly realised his potential."
"To destroy his own father?" I snarled bitterly.
"And what about me? Where did I fit in to all of this?"
"You were just the means to the end." Kolopak admitted quietly.
"And you just stood by and let them do it, helped them do it?"
"I THOUGHT YOU LOVED ME!" I screamed at my father, so hurt by his confession that I was reduced to almost child-like rage.
Kolopak reached out towards me and his face cracked with grief when I flinched from his touch, as though it were poison.
"Donít you realise that I did it because I DO love you? The spirits promised me you would not be harmed, Chakotay. In return for my cooperation they guaranteed both your life and Tomís. Donít you see? You are alive, Tom is alive, and the blood debt has finally been paid. The Spirits are satisfied now, they have returned to the Spirit plain. There is nothing more to be done now."
"Except the small matter of Angel, the Herans, Starfleet and the fact that Tom is paralysed!"
Kolopak sighed. "Chakotay, I know the Spirits are capricious and cruel sometimes but, believe me, they are VERY fond of both you AND Tom. Tom was NEVER meant to win the Wkangana. To be honest, the Spirits were completely surprised by his strength. Thatís the only reason they allowed Paris to hurt you. They realised that the only thing that would break Tomís spirit was the belief that you were dead."
"So they cheated." I hissed.
"They cheated," Kolopak agreed, "and because of that Tom APPEARED to lose, but the very fact that they were forced to cheat meant he won."
"Except the Dorvanians, the Herans and Tom donít see it that way, so what does it matter?"
"It matters because Tom is now favoured by the Spirits. Why do you think his suicide attempts have been so easily thwarted? The spirits ARE protecting him. You will soon discover that all of your problems HAVE been resolved, one way or another."
"Including Tomís paralysis?" I demanded.
Kolopak finally shrivelled a little under my glare. "No," he confessed, "not that."
"WHY? It was only the damned Wkangana that reversed his cure," I roared.
"No, my son, it wasnít. There never was a COMPLETE cure. I told you, Tom died. His body was crushed."
"But the spirits brought him back to life!"
"Barely, and it wasnít enough. The alien Ďcureí only partially restored his body. It was Passamaquoddy who did the rest, who gave him the power to walk so he could do what needed to be done. When Angel removed Tomís wings, Passamaquoddy left him. THAT is why Tom cannot walk."
"But the spirits caused the crash. Why wonít they heal him?"
"Sometimes things simply cannot be undone. They sorrow for the harm they have caused, but they cannot put EVERYTHING right."
"Damn them. Damn YOU!" I spat and the forest began to disintegrate around me.
"Come back, I havenít finished, I need to know whatís going to happen!" I screamed, but the words bounced hollowly in the small confines of my quarters on the "Milton."
My father, and the spirit realm had disappeared and I was alone.
Did I believe it, any of it? Was it real or had my mind simply conjured up a fantasy to try and make sense of the whole convoluted mess? Was the spirit world truly real, or did it only exist in my head?
I didnít know.
Perhaps Iíd never know.
And yet, still my meditation had left me with hope. Kolopak said that all of our problems had already been solved, one-way or the other. I sincerely hoped that he was right.