Double Jeopardy- Part Sixteen
The single word tumbled around in Tom's mind as though the thought was a frantic fluttering bird trapped in his head, unable to find any safe perch on which to settle amongst the maelstrom of his confusion.
Even if he could bring himself to believe the Captain's assurances, he was ill-equipped to even begin imagining how his new life aboard Voyager would be.
She'd assured him he would be safe.
The idea was alien to Tom. An idea too contrary to any previous experience for Tom to envisage it as a reality.
That was the only word that he could truly grasp onto. He clung onto that promise, because it was the only one that made sense to him. No matter that the mere idea of remaining as the pilot of this beautiful ship made his blood surge with excitement, the reality of the offer was in its logical inevitability.
He understood why Captain Janeway had offered him the role of Chief Conn Officer. They were seventy-five years away from the Federation, which meant equally that Tom himself was seventy-five years away from Gul Dukat. His mission was effectively over, he had inadvertently failed his father, his modifications were now of no use to the FIA.
In this place, the Delta Quadrant, his only immediate usefulness to the Captain was as a pilot.
So, because the pleasure he would take in fulfilling the role had been irrelevant to the Captain's decision, Tom could at least feel relatively secure that that promise had been sincere.
He felt a little ashamed of himself for his secret pleasure though because, although he was sorry that Lieutenant Stadii was dead, he had no illusions that without her unfortunate demise his only other possible value to Janeway would have been as the ship's whore.
Then again, it was equally strange that he wasn't being expected to fulfill both roles.
Lots of things were strange.
Tom was confused about the other decisions the Captain had taken. It had seemed an odd choice on her behalf to reveal Seska's identity but then, when he had thought about it, Tom had decided that a Cardassian spy was of no use as a bargaining chip in the Delta Quadrant, so it probably made sense to sacrifice her in the game of winning Chakotay's confidence.
Not that her decision to keep Chakotay alive made much sense either.
From the moment the array had been destroyed, Tom had been convinced that Janeway's next step would be to eliminate the Maquis Captain. When Chakotay had disappeared for so long into Janeway's ready room, Tom had begun to fear that he'd never emerge again. Tom's own misery over Harry's apparent defection and Chakotay's obvious loathing had been swamped by a new, more insidious fear. That the Captain would deal with the Maquis Captain in the traditional FIA fashion.
Tom had been so positive that Janeway had already transported Chakotay clear out of her ready room and into the brig, that he had begun to compile a list of the secret command over-ride codes that he had been intending to use for his own escape with Seska. They would have enabled Chakotay to cripple Voyager long enough to steal a shuttle and escape.
Tom had known, of course, that Janeway would have quickly deducted that he was the Judas in her midst, but he had been facing death since the moment Berzawski had visited him in Auckland and Tom was damned certain that any death at Janeway's hands would be a hell of a lot quicker than the death he had been envisaging from Gul Dukat. Or even the new obvious threat of the Maquis.
He hadn't even had a chance to appreciate the removal of Dukat's threat before it had been so flawlessly replaced by the looks of murderous promise from his former Maquis 'colleagues'. So, knowing his own life was inevitably forfeit, he had decided that the best he could hope to do under the circumstances was to at least save the life of the only person he had ever loved.
He had to do it because he still loved Chakotay in the few shards of his heart that hadn't splintered completely on the discovery that it was Chakotay himself who had sent him to Auckland. Tom hadn't allowed himself to even think about that betrayal. It hurt too much to imagine Chakotay's avowals of love had been so quickly and easily overturned that he hadn't even been prepared to give Tom a chance. He had accepted the blame on his own shoulders, preferring the familiar feeling of self-hatred to the far more painful idea that Chakotay's love had never been real.
Besides, Chakotay's rejection had been inevitable anyway.
Tom understood that he was a monstrous creature, a 'mod', a man so changed at a genetic level that his existence would be immediately forfeit if his modifications were ever unmasked. So even if Chakotay had accepted the sincerity of his desire to stay with him back on the Crazy Horse, even if Chakotay had been telling the truth when he had offered Tom the chance to made amends, eventually Chakotay would have discovered his modifications. As much as Tom wished for more memories than one single night of making love together, he was equally relieved that Chakotay's hatred for him was the loathing of one man for another, rather than the horror of a man who discovered that his lover was an inhuman monster.
It wasn't anything that he could put into words, nothing that he could explain to a person who hadn't suffered the same genetic rape as he himself had experienced, but the only thing that made Chakotay's hatred of him bearable was the fact that it proved, at least, that Chakotay didn't know what he truly was.
Tom didn't fear death, he was immune to physical pain and he was so used to mental anguish that he was pretty sure that no amount of cruelty could possibly make him feel worse than he already did. He'd only once in his life made the mistake of dreaming his life could be better and his subsequent stay in Auckland had swiftly disabused him of the idea.
The only thing that Tom had truly feared was the moment when the hatred in Chakotay's eyes would turn to revulsion. Then even that selfish fear had fled with the realization that a dead Chakotay was an even worse scenario to contemplate.
So, even though he knew that Chakotay would no more trust Tom's codes than he would trust a venomous snake, and that he would probably have to confess his true nature simply to explain the reason that he had the codes to offer, Tom had felt compelled to try and save him.
But he had barely managed to get the data onto a padd before he had learned that Chakotay was to remain on board as the First Officer. The decision had stunned him at first, but then he had seen the deviousness behind the plan. Chakotay's co-operation meant the co-operation of the other Maquis.
So, the real oddity had been that Janeway had expressly forbidden Tom to tell Tuvok that she was an FIA agent too.
It was the one decision she had made that made no sense to him at all.
Still, when he thought of how close he had come to approaching Chakotay with the data, Tom felt so ill he could barely breathe. What if Chakotay had revealed his modifications to the Captain?
It didn't matter that she already knew. Chakotay wouldn't have known that she knew. Hell, Chakotay didn't know Janeway was FIA. Maybe he didn't even know such an organization even existed. Tom would have had to explain to Chakotay the reason he had the over-ride codes, Chakotay would have run to the Captain in disgust, and then Janeway would have used the modifications as an excuse to kill Tom for betraying her.
He would have joined Seska in the airlock.
Such a brutal way to die.
Tom had overheard a few of the Maquis discussing the execution and it had chilled him how gleefully they had described her last moments and how regretful they had been that it had all been over so quickly. Not that Tom was going to shed any tears over Seska. She'd delighted in making his own life torture when he'd been Dukat's pet. She would have enjoyed escorting him back to Dukat to observe his death at the Cardassian's hands. No. He was glad she was dead, but he was still a little shocked by the savagery of the sentence.
Captain Janeway's petite frame housed a surprisingly ruthless soul. Tom was terrified of her. He was also convinced that she was maybe the best thing that had happened to him in his whole life.
She was clearly a person who sized up people's strengths and weaknesses and then used them in whatever way was most beneficial to herself. So, she had decided that what she needed most at this moment was a live pilot rather than a dead whore.
He had a rank, a position, his own officer's quarters and, more importantly, clear orders from his Captain that he could refuse any and all sexual advances of any lower ranking member of the crew. Given that only Tuvok, Chakotay and herself outranked him now, it effectively meant that Tom's voyage home would be celibate.
For the first time in years, his body belonged to himself again because he couldn't imagine any of the three touching him at all.
Tuvok loathed him for the very fact that he was a whore. The Vulcan had made it abundantly clear back when Tom had first been assigned to work with him that he would never sully himself by touching the younger man. Chakotay now clearly felt the same way, and the Captain herself seemed completely disinterested. So, Tom could at least enjoy the pretence that his new ability to say 'no' was something that he could take pride in.
"It seems you have a bodyguard," she'd told him, and for a split-second Tom had dared to hope that Chakotay still harbored some tiny affection for him despite his behavior since their reunion.
Realizing that Chakotay's protection had in fact been won on the Ocampan staircase, had dashed that brief hope. Harry had once told him that in the old Japanese language there were a dozen ways to say thank you, but all of them translated as resentment. The comment had confused him then, but now it made a terrible, bitter sense.
No matter how tiny the hope had ever been that Chakotay might have forgiven his original deception, now Tom had no hope at all. For a man as proud and noble as Chakotay, the obligation to guard the life of his 'rescuer' couldn't possibly do anything except increase the hatred already in his heart.
Tom didn't even hear the voice. Since the viewscreen was clear and they were only moving at warp 4, his hands were flying the ship by pure instinct while his mind was busy processing the jumbled confusion of his thoughts.
"Lieutenant Paris," Chakotay snapped, raising his voice with annoyance as the blond continued to blatantly ignore him.
"Huh? Sir?" Tom jerked to attention and swung around in his seat to face the new 'Commander' for the first time. Seeing the glowering fury deep within Chakotay's eyes, despite the professional mask that kept all expression from his face, Tom hastened to explain. "I'm sorry, Sir. I'm not used to the rank. It didn't register with me."
A low titter from Ensign Jarvin who was standing beside the Commander no doubt echoed Chakotay's obvious doubt that Tom would keep the rank long enough to ever get used to it but, to Tom's complete surprise, Chakotay simply nodded in acknowledgement and gave a small smile that failed to reach his still angry eyes.
"I expect we'll all take some time to get used to the changes, Lieutenant," Chakotay said pleasantly.
Tom chewed his lower lip cautiously, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
"You're relived of duty, Lieutenant," Chakotay purred.
Tom actually felt the blood draining out of his face. He wanted to scream, to howl. He wanted to run to the Captain's ready room and pound on the door until she explained to him exactly how come his new safety had only lasted long enough for Chakotay to put on his uniform.
Instead he simply rose on shaky legs and began to stumble from the conn, his eyes fixed firmly on the floor so that he wouldn't have to see the undoubtedly derisive expressions of the other crew at his ignominious dismissal.
"Aren't you forgetting something, Lieutenant?" Chakotay asked pleasantly.
Tom dragged his eyes cautiously upwards to meet the Commander's bland expression, but it was Jarvin who lost patience enough to surge forward and slap Tom's shoulder impatiently.
"When I relieve you off shift, you have to give me a report, tell me what's happened on your shift," Jarvin hissed into his ear. "You might be a crackerjack pilot, Sir, but you obviously know shit about bridge protocol."
"Shift?" Tom repeated, his brow furrowing with confusion. Then he slowly looked around the bridge and realized that all the other officers who had been working with him had already been replaced. He'd been so lost in his thoughts that he hadn't even noticed the end of the shift.
"As admirable as it is that you obviously take your duties seriously, Mr. Paris, no one is expecting you to live on the conn," Chakotay drawled.
The rest of the Bridge crew chuckled at Chakotay's comment, as much from relief as from amusement. It was obvious to Starfleet and Maquis alike that the Commander hated Tom Paris, so his current easy manner with him on the Bridge boded well for the promised seamless integration of the two crews.
Only Tom was in a position to look Chakotay directly in the face, so only he saw the small flash of satisfaction that flared deep within the dark angry eyes.
He did it deliberately, Tom realized. He deliberately made me think the worst.
And the slow satisfied smirk that spread across Chakotay's face made it equally obvious that he knew that Tom had received his message loud and clear.