Double Jeopardy- PART SEVENTEEN
Tom stumbled back to his quarters, his legs on autopilot. He barely even noticed the contemptuous looks of Marquis and Starfleet alike as he brushed past them in the corridors, protected from their scorn by the very pips on his shoulders that were the main source of their antagonism. He ignored the low, rumbling ache in his empty stomach, bypassing the mess-hall in favor of the safety of his own quarters. All he wanted, needed, was to be alone until he could erase the pain of Chakotay's angry, mocking smile.
This was hell, he decided.
Not dying a slow, torturous death at Dukat's hands. Not living as the constant sexual plaything of the inmates of Auckland maximum security. No. THIS was hell. Living the next seventy years under the unbearable weight of Chakotay's hatred.
He had no defense with which to counter Chakotay's scorn. There was nothing he could say to the man that wouldn't fan Chakotay's hate to an even hotter flame.
A lifetime of abuse and pain hadn't prepared him to deal with the knifing agony of Chakotay's scorn, because he'd never before known how it felt, really felt, to care about another person's opinion of him. Because he'd never loved anyone before. Because no matter how physically he'd been damaged, no one had ever managed to hurt *him* rather than his body.
Somehow he'd always kept the *real* Tom carefully cocooned inside a box deep inside himself so that no matter what had been done to his body, a tiny spirit of himself had remained aloof and untouched. It was the part of him that screamed silently when his body betrayed him with its sluttish programmed response to pain. It was the part of him that kept a tiny spark of pride alive no matter how many people abused him. It was the part of him that jealously guarded the few fragments of broken dreams that he had gathered and stuffed deep inside. It was the part of himself that remembered his love of flying, his pleasure in simple things like soup, that somehow against all odds insisted that maybe, just maybe, there was a little humanity remaining despite the rape of his genes.
It was the only part of him that was the *real* Tom. A sad, ghostly echo of the man he *might* have become if not for the Admiral. It was the part of him that he had freely given to Chakotay, only for it to be found wanting.
That, perhaps, was what hurt the most. That he had finally dared to let someone see the *real* Tom, and instead of accepting it as something precious, Chakotay had trampled it underfoot like so much garbage.
Until Chakotay had betrayed him, Tom had sometimes dared to believe that without his father's manipulations, he *might* have become someone who was loveable.
Now he had tasted the truth, and it was a bitter vintage.
The tiny part of himself that he had so jealously guarded, the brief echo of his humanity, had been exposed to Chakotay's eyes and had been found to be as worthless as his public persona after all.
He could see his future mapped out in front of him, its inevitability outlined in harsh brush strokes. An endless lifetime of hiding in his quarters like the freak he was, paraded out daily to perform his duties at the helm with Chakotay's hatred boring into the back of his neck like hot knives so that he wouldn't even be able to lose himself in the one tiny pleasure that was available to him, forever alone, forever scorned and hated.
And the worst of it was that he now knew he deserved nothing else.
There was no point in pretending any more.
He *was* a monster, a freak, a creature that Federation Law stated should be slaughtered without a second thought.
Only, that wasn't what hurt. That wasn't news. He'd understood that fact since the day he woke in the hospital and discovered what his father had done to him.
No, what hurt. What *really* hurt, was that he no longer believed that his father had been wrong to do it to him. Tom Paris had *never* been a creature worthy of love. All the Admiral had done was give him an external body to match his hateful soul.
And it was with that terrible knowledge that he staggered back to the solitude of his quarters, like an animal needing a dark hole to curl up and lick its wounds.
"Oh god, I'm sorry," Harry blurted, jumping to his feet and flushing with embarrassment. "I know I shouldn't have let myself in, but I got fed up of waiting in the corridor and you haven't set your personal door lock yet."
The object of his concern finally stopped shaking and a little color crept back into his cheeks as he attempted to paste a smile over his face. The expression was far less convincing than the complete flinch of terror he had given on finding that his quarters were occupied, and Harry swallowed uncomfortably, unsure what would make a man almost faint in terror just because he had a visitor.
"You startled me," Tom rasped finally. "I wasn't expecting anyone."
Obviously, Harry thought to himself, belatedly remembering some of the rumors he had heard about Tom's life in prison. He couldn't bear to even try and believe the tales that the crew had been whispering in his ears, it was too foreign to his belief of the Federation as a sparkling example of an advanced society. Still, the way Tom had panicked in the few seconds it had taken him to identify Harry as his unexpected visitor made Harry feel sick. It was impossible to see an expression like that on Tom's face and not understand that the other man's experience of 'visitors' to his quarters had rarely meant anything other than pain.
Although he had no experience of dealing with such things, Harry instinctively knew the worst thing he could do was acknowledge Tom's panic. He'd come here because he'd been concerned about Tom's state of mind and the last thing he wanted to do was add to the problem.
"I just wanted to invite you to dinner," Harry said casually.
"Dinner?" Tom choked.
"Unless Lieutenants don't eat with lowly Ensigns, of course," he added, with a carefully wide grin.
Tom blinked uncertainly and then, his eyes dull with pain, his mouth twisted into a bitter sneer.
"Why? You think your life needs more excitement Harry? You not satisfied with being lost in the Delta Quadrant?"
"What do you mean?"
"Get out of here, kid. You've got enough problems without me hanging like an albatross around your neck. It's going to be a long journey home and you're going to need all the friends you can get. Don't fuck it up by being seen with me."
"I told you before, no one chooses my friends for me," Harry replied staunchly.
"Friends?" Tom repeated slowly, then shook his head firmly. "Fuck off, Harry. You're not my friend. You made that clear on Ocampa. Just get lost. I don't know what you're selling, but I'm not buying."
"Ocampa?" Harry asked, trying not to show how much Tom's words had hurt him.
Tom just shrugged and turned away, but not before Harry had seen a shadow of real grief flicker in those icy blue eyes. He closed his own eyes in confusion, throwing his mind back to the Ocampan staircase when Tom had come like the cavalry to save his life. Then he flinched and cursed himself.
"It was a joke," he apologized weakly. "That's all, I swear. When you appeared, I was so relieved I wanted to burst into tears. I was so scared that I would, that I cracked a joke. I never thought you'd take me seriously. You're my friend, Tom, and there's no point you pretending you don't feel the same way, 'cos you came after me."
Tom turned back to face him, and although his eyes were softer, his expression was still bitter.
"Yeah," he admitted with obvious reluctance, "I came after you, because I owed you. You were good to me, Harry, and I appreciate it. You put your neck on the line to be my friend and I...I couldn't let anything happen to you. But that was before. We're even now. I owed you. I paid. It's over."
"Why?" Harry demanded. "Because of the Maquis?"
"Fuck 'em," Harry said.
Tom's mouth gaped open and he blinked at Harry in disbelief.
"Look, I don't mean to be blunt," Harry continued blithely, "but you weren't going to win any popularity contests with the 'fleeters either. *That* didn't bother me then, and the Maquis don't bother me now. I dunno why everyone else wants to judge you on what you've done, instead of who you are, but I'm not playing that game. You've put your ass on the line twice to save me and without you at the helm we would have probably all been killed by the Kazon. The way I see it, since the moment I met you you've proven that you're a brave, selfless person who can't possibly deserve the bad rep' you carry and until the day you let *me* down, I'm not going to allow other people's hang ups to change the way I feel about you. You're a good man, Tom Paris."
"I'm not," Tom said, his eyes bright with tears.
"You're not what?"
"Good," Tom replied, then took a deep breath. "I'm not even...human."
Harry just gaped at him.
Tom sighed and turned his back on Harry's bewildered expression. He couldn't do it, couldn't face accepting Harry's offer of friendship when he knew from his experience with Chakotay how much it would hurt when Harry eventually learned the truth about him. Better to end it here and now.
"Tom?" Harry asked cautiously. "What are you trying to say to me?"
Tom's only answer was to stalk over to his replicator and request a steak. He wasn't hungry, he just wanted the cutlery.
Harry's face went pale when Tom turned back to face him with a sharp steak knife in his hands, but before he could jerk to his feet to stop him, Tom pulled up his left uniform sleeve and then slashed a savage gash into his forearm.
"Just wait," Tom growled at him, locking his eyes with Harry's. "Just wait and watch."
Tharn, Harry nodded wordlessly, and watched as the gushing blood reduced to a slow trickle and then stopped. Then, before his eyes, Tom's skin slowly began to knit itself back together. It was only when no more than a thin red line remained to mark the knife's entry wound that Harry finally found the breath to speak.
"What? How?" he pleaded.
"I'm a mod," Tom replied bluntly, then waited for Harry's face to twist into derisive horror.
Instead, Harry just looked more confused.
"A mod?" he asked. "I've never heard of any aliens called mods."
Tom's lips twitched in a bitter smile.
"You're so damned innocent, Harry," he snarled. "I'm not an alien. I'm a mod. A modified human. A genetically enhanced human."
"But...but that's illegal," Harry argued.
"Yeah," Tom drawled. "So now you know. Tom Paris is not only a double-dealing traitor, murderer, ex-con and all round scum of the earth. I'm a genetically altered monster too. Still want to call me your friend, Harry?" he mocked.
"Why'd you do it, Tom?"
"What makes you think I had any say in the matter?" Tom snapped.
Harry thought about the comment and then nodded sadly.
"Does the Captain know?" Harry asked quietly.
"Why? You wanna go tell her?" Tom demanded.
"Does she know?"
"Yeah," Tom admitted.
"That's okay then," Harry replied.
"Well if she doesn't mind, it can't be that bad, can it? Otherwise she'd hardly have given you your rank."
"Not that bad?" Tom demanded, his face twisted in confusion." Harry, I just admitted to you that I'm a freak, a monster, and all you can say is it's okay if the captain knows?"
"Tom, you are what you are. It doesn't make any difference."
"I don't understand."
"Look, I told you I didn't care what other people thought about you. That goes for you too. I don't care whether you *think* you should be my friend. Fact is, you are. I'm stuck here 70 years from home. I might never see my family or Libby again. Chances are we might get blown up by Kazon warships tomorrow. The way I see it, I don't want to spend the rest of my life, however short it might be, sucking up to the rest of the crew just to be popular. I *choose* my friends, Tom, and I've chosen you, so like it or not, you're stuck with me. Now are you going to keep giving me a hard time about it, or are we going to eat that damned steak?"
"Tom, the smell is driving me mad. If you won't go to the mess hall with me, the least you can do is feed me here."
Tom was too shocked to reply. Like an automaton he pulled the cooling steak from the replicator, ordered another and placed both dishes on the table. Harry immediately dived into his dinner with a happy sigh of appreciation. Tom just pushed his own food around his plate.
"There's more," he finally mumbled.
"More I haven't told you."
Harry looked at him carefully, started to say it didn't matter then saw the fear of rejection in Tom's eyes, shrugged and reached out to touch the back of Tom's right hand.
"So why don't you tell me everything?" he said softly.
Tom nearly shot out of his seat as the dark features appeared so close to his own that their cheeks nearly touched.
Yet again, Chakotay had padded silently up to the back of his chair and had leaned over to check the co-ordinates he had entered.
"You've got a point-oh-two variance," Chakotay commented.
Tom explained that he was compensating for a slight fluctuation he had sensed in the port nacelle then wished he'd bit his tongue when Chakotay made a loud joke that if Tom was *that* much of an engineer, he ought to take the grievance up with B'Elanna in person.
The whole bridge crew laughed, Tom shuffled uncomfortably, flushing as red as his uniform, and Chakotay returned to his seat.
Until the next time.
Chakotay turned to face the small ensign who was racing up the corridor to catch up with him.
Harry took a deep breath to steady himself and then looked straight into Chakotay's eyes.
"Why do you do that?" he asked.
"Do what?" Chakotay replied coldly.
"Make fun of Tom on the bridge."
"Do I?" Chakotay replied quelling.
Harry swallowed nervously and found his eyes sliding uncomfortably from Chakotay's black stare, but he held his ground.
"You know you do. You got up to check on him twenty-six times today and each time you made some comment that made everyone laugh."
"Do you object to people laughing on the bridge, Ensign?" Chakotay snapped.
"I do when it's at the expense of my friend," Harry replied gamely.
"He's not your friend, Ensign. He's a traitor who uses people for his own purposes then throws them away. I'd advise you to think very carefully before you throw away your career for scum like Tom Paris."
"My career?" Harry squeaked.
"Whether it's on this ship, or back home in the Alpha Quadrant, your 'friendship' with Paris is going to cost you any chance of promotion," Chakotay said grimly. "Your association with him is already blighting any chance you have of making *real* friends and if you don't disassociate yourself from him quickly you'll find yourself tarred with the same brush. No one sits with you in the mess anymore, just in case Paris comes in and sits at your table. No one wants you included on any away missions with them because in their opinion the friend of a traitor is most likely a traitor too."
"More fool them," Harry said bravely.
"In fact," Chakotay continued, as though Harry hadn't spoken, "I'm personally beginning to doubt whether you have what it takes to be an Ensign. Being a Starfleet officer demands good judgment and you obviously don't have any."
"Are you threatening me?" Harry asked, his eyes wide with disbelief.
Chakotay smiled and patted Harry on the shoulder.
"Just a friendly warning, Ensign. It's part of my job to make sure you don't ruin your career with ill-advised liaisons."
Harry shuddered as Chakotay walked away whistling. There had been *nothing* friendly in that smile.
"Harry?" Tom said cautiously, as he caught up with Harry in the corridor and found him white faced and trembling. He carefully reached out and touched Harry's arm.
"Oh, hi," Harry said, but his smile didn't reach his eyes.
"You wanna go get something to eat?" Tom asked hopefully. He was starving but was too short of rations to replicate a decent dinner. On the other hand, he didn't feel up to facing the mess hall alone after the day he'd just spent on the bridge.
Harry shook himself and broke free of Tom's tentative hold.
"Nah," Harry mumbled. "There's someone I've got to go and see tonight."
Tom's stomach turned over and he flinched slightly, no longer feeling hungry after all. He dragged an insincere smile over his face.
"Yeah, well, I've got things to do too," he lied.
"What? Oh, right," Harry muttered, his thoughts far away. "See you tomorrow."
"Yeah," Tom whispered and turned away, furiously blinking at the tears that were threatening to escape from his suddenly stinging eyes as he slowly walked back to his quarters alone.
Kathryn glared at her First Officer in complete disbelief.
"I can't believe you, Chakotay. Don't you think Tom's life on board is miserable enough already? You're supposed to be looking after him."
"I am," Chakotay replied shortly. "He hasn't been physically OR verbally assaulted by any members of the crew. I draw the line at forcing them to talk to him off duty, however."
"But not at trying to prevent the only person who *will* talk to him from doing so," Kathryn accused.
"Ensign Kim is idealistic and naive. He was probably the kind of boy who took injured animals home with him. Tom's completely suckered him in with his 'poor little me' act. It's irresponsible of you to allow Tom to corrupt him, and he will."
"Funny," Kathryn replied. "My own opinion is that Harry is far more likely to 'corrupt' Tom. At this rate, Tom might actually start to believe that *some* people judge a person on themselves instead of their history."
"People *are* their history, Captain. As much as you might want to pretend Tom's life started the day you collected him from Auckland, the truth is that he's the product of that 'history'. You can't trust him as far as you can throw him and even if you're too arrogant to see that for yourself, I don't see why Mr. Kim should have to suffer the disillusionment of growing to care for Paris and then discovering the truth. The sooner their 'friendship' is broken up, the better for all of us."
"The better for you, you mean," Kathryn accused.
"What do you mean?"
"You're jealous, Chakotay, and while that can be endearing in a younger man, in someone of your age and experience it's frankly quite distasteful."
"I am NOT jealous," Chakotay growled.
Kathryn raised an eyebrow and snorted.
"Firstly, Harry Kim is so completely heterosexual he almost failed the psyche evaluation to join Starfleet. Fortunately, he's not homophobic so his restricted sexual orientation was accepted as no more than a peculiarity but he would never have been sent on any deep space explorations because of the potential problems."
Chakotay nodded. He knew only too well that sexual tension was bad enough on a long term mission without having to worry that a crew member restricted their possible mates to members of the opposite sex. He therefore *had* automatically assumed that Harry was sleeping with Tom and, although he would have sworn that had nothing to do with his objections to the 'friendship,' a pressure he hadn't been aware of began to subside within his chest.
"Secondly, every time Tom takes the helm he's responsible for the safety of the whole crew. Under the circumstances, I sleep better for knowing that there is at least *one* member of the crew who's safety means something to him. The way everyone else is treating him, I'd hardly blame him for plunging us into the next star."
"I am following your orders with regard to Paris," Chakotay snarled defensively.
"The letter perhaps, but hardly the spirit," Kathryn replied coldly. "Don't think I haven't noticed the way you continually heckle him on the bridge."
"I'm merely showing an interest in his work," Chakotay replied.
"Second guessing his decisions are not interest, they are harassment," Kathryn replied. "I don't care whether your smiles are fooling the rest of the bridge crew. They aren't fooling me and, more to the point, aren't fooling him either. By the end of each shift he's so nervous he can barely walk to the turbolift."
"As you yourself said, Captain, any mistake he makes could kill us all. I'm just keeping him alert and on his toes."
"You're being a sadistic son of a bitch," she replied. "It stops now, do you understand?"
"Yes, Captain," Chakotay growled.
"And I don't want to hear any more complaints about your behavior from Harry Kim."
"He complained?" Chakotay asked, his face a study of shock.
"Believe it or not, I'm not psychic," Kathryn replied. "I brought the subject up because the Ensign had the good sense to come and see me after your little 'chat' with him. He made it clear to me that he thought you were out of line, and I agreed with him."
"He won't be so pleased with your interference when he discovers that Paris is an FIA freak."
"I don't think Harry is aware enough of Federation internal politics to even understand what the FIA really is," Kathryn agreed.
"On the other hand," Kathryn continued, "he's perfectly aware of the eugenics code. He asked me to tell him exactly what a 'mod' was."
"He knows?" Chakotay blurted.
"Well, Tom didn't give him the specifics and Harry decided he'd rather ask me than upset Tom with his questions," Kathryn replied.
"He's knows that Tom's a mod?"
"Oh yes," Kathryn replied with a tight smile. "It seems Tom *did* learn a lesson from your rejection of him. He told Harry *everything*."
"The whole nine yards. His modifications. His work with his father. His time with Dukat. His time with you. His experiences in Auckland. Everything."
Chakotay just stared at her.
"Know the funny thing?" Kathryn asked.
"What?" Chakotay whispered.
"That his only reaction to all of Tom's *sordid* secrets was to come and ask me to stop you interfering between him and Tom."
She looked long and hard at the stunned expression on Chakotay's face and couldn't resist another dig.
"I suppose that's what happens when you *really* care about someone. You accept their baggage and just deal with it."