The Shattering of the Mask 20
See part 1 for disclaimer
"The Commander has left Mr. Paris's quarters," Tuvok confirmed.
Kathryn released the breath she had been holding since Tuvok had first commed her to say that Chakotay had entered the pilot's room.
"What about Tom?" she asked.
"He is following the Commander," Tuvok advised. "Their destination appears to be the Mess Hall."
Kathryn's eyes narrowed suspiciously.
"Tell O'Halloran and Bennett to remain on stand-by, and meet me at the Mess Hall, Tuvok. I want to monitor the situation and I think that we need to talk."
"Indeed, Captain," Tuvok replied.
Tom froze as the door to the Mess opened and he was assailed by the loud raucous chatter of the crowded room. Most of Alpha Shift were still eating, and he saw numerous heads turn towards him, only to duck with embarrassment when he caught their staring eyes.
He flinched when Chakotay gently patted his elbow in encouragement and he was driven into the room by his need to avoid Chakotay's touch.
Chakotay led him to one of the few remaining vacant tables.
"Why don't you sit down, Tom, and let me fetch our meals?" Chakotay suggested mildly.
Tom's knees weakened and he collapsed into one of the chairs, as a wave of deja-vu crashed over him. This had been a bad idea, a really bad idea, he realised belatedly. The last time he had been in this room had been at the beginning of his alleged breakdown. Chakotay had fetched his meal then too, as part of his act to appear the concerned counselor. The scene was stunningly familiar. No-one was approaching their table, everyone was pretending that Tom was invisible, and Chakotay was pretending that he cared.
"I wanna get my own meal," he gasped angrily, determined not to allow Chakotay to make any more choices for him.
Chakotay simply shrugged.
"Sure, Tom. Whatever you want to do is fine," he said soothingly. He had wanted to spare Tom the trauma of standing in line at the galley, but if Tom felt that strongly about it he wasn't going to argue with him.
Tom started to rise but his legs betrayed him, their muscles turning to mush as he spotted Tuvok and the Captain joining the queue to be served. He bit his lip badly enough to draw blood.
"What do you want, Tom?" Chakotay asked kindly, quickly realising that Tom had apparently changed his mind. "There's some kind of casserole, salad, something that looks suspiciously like pizza but probably has leola lurking in the topping and a dessert that actually looks edible for a change."
Tom's mouth quirked at Chakotay's attempt at humor.
"Casserole and dessert, please," he requested quietly.
"I'll be right back," Chakotay promised and joined the line.
"What the hell are you doing, Tom?" Harry whispered, sliding into the chair next to Tom's and glancing suspiciously at Chakotay's retreating back.
"Well, jeez, Harry. I think I'm here to eat dinner," Tom snapped defensively.
"I mean with him!" Harry demanded. "Shit, Tom. It's one thing to pretend he never hurt you, but do you have to pretend he's your friend too? I don't understand how you can even share the same room with him, let alone eat with him."
"He isn't the same person, Harry. He was ill, now he's better," Tom argued, praying that it was true.
"B'Elanna told me what he did to you, Tom. I don't see how you can bear to have him anywhere near you. He's a sick fuck, Tom and if you can't see that, then maybe you need your own head examined," Harry spat.
Tom's already pasty expression whitened still further. Harry knew. B'Elanna knew. Hell maybe they all knew. No wonder no-one wanted to talk to him. Maybe the only person on board who didn't know the dirty cheap whore that he had become was Chakotay.
"I'm going to talk to the Captain," Harry announced, as Tom released a bitter laugh at the irony of the situation. "You obviously do need counseling Tom if you can't see how crazy it is for you to be doing this."
Tom's head finally jerked around to meet Harry's judgmental stare with blazing eyes.
"Yeah," he hissed. "As crazy as it would be for me to forgive you for turning your back on me just so you could steal my girlfriend, huh, Harry?"
"Shit, Tom. It wasn't like that," Harry replied desperately, his face flushing with shame.
"Oh yeah? Then how was it, Harry?" Tom challenged, his eyes filling with tears of betrayal.
"I - I- I - I'll talk to you later, Tom. Okay?" Harry pleaded, as Chakotay approached the table, his face darkening dangerously as he saw Tom's clenched fists and distressed face.
Tom just nodded dully. He hadn't wanted to argue with Harry anyway. He had just lashed out in panic when Harry had threatened to talk to the Captain.
"You alright, Tom?" Chakotay asked solicitously, placing the trays on the table and taking the seat opposite.
"Yeah," Tom mumbled.
"What were you and Harry arguing about?" Chakotay asked.
"B'Elanna," Tom lied.
A memory crashed into Chakotay's head with the force of a mallet. B'Elanna. B'Elanna and Tom. Tom and B'Elanna. Of course! That was why he hadn't ever asked Tom out on a date. Tom had been dating B'Elanna Torres. Only Harry Kim had evidently stolen her.
That explained something that had been niggling him for two weeks; Harry and B'Elanna's odd behaviour towards himself. No wonder Harry and B'Elanna had been acting so coldly towards him. They obviously felt guilty about their actions and had assumed, correctly, that he would take Tom's side.
He carefully reached out and squeezed Tom's right hand in his own. The pilot flinched and pulled his hand rapidly away. Chakotay cursed himself for his stupidity. Of course Tom wouldn't appreciate anyone touching him physically, he reminded himself.
"I'm sorry, Tom. I shouldn't have done that," he whispered contritely.
Tom raised his head shyly and tried to smile.
"No. I'm sorry," he replied quietly. "I know you wouldn't hurt me."
Surprised by the generosity of Tom's words, Chakotay looked carefully at the younger man. His blue eyes were wide with fear and his voice had trembled as though he was struggling to believe his own words.
"Thank you, Tom. I really appreciate your trust and I swear that I will never abuse it," he promised.
Yet, strangely enough, rather than being reassured by his words, Tom flinched as though pained and quickly dropped his head towards his plate and began to eat.
"I don't understand what is going on in Tom's head, Tuvok. It just isn't natural in my opinion," Kathryn said quietly, glad that the positioning of her own table gave enough privacy from the rest of the room for her to talk frankly without the fear of being overheard.
"I agree that I find Mr. Paris's behaviour improbable," Tuvok confirmed.
"As much as Chakotay's behaviour seems to be impeccable, I don't trust him and I can't for the life of me understand how Tom can even try," Kathryn said. "Working with him on the bridge is one thing, socializing with him is a completely different matter. I really think you should mind-meld with him, Tuvok and find out what is going on in his head."
"As I advised you, Captain. I agreed to the involuntary mind-meld with Chakotay because of his obviously criminal behaviour. Mr. Paris is not a criminal. He has already been victimized, abused and raped. Performing a mind-meld with him against his wishes would be perceived by him as virtually another rape. It would make me no better than the Commander in his eyes."
"I know, Tuvok, which is why I haven't ordered you to do it. On the other hand, how can we sit by and let him hurt himself with this apparent obsession with Chakotay?" she asked.
"I believe that Mr. Paris's evident state of confusion requires further counseling, Captain, and I regret to admit that I am unable to perform the role adequately. Although I understand your reluctance to let anyone else know the circumstances of the abuse he suffered, I find myself inadequate as a counselor in this instance. His behaviour is not logical, it is emotional."
"Tom has refused the Doctor as his counselor, Tuvok, and there is no-one else on board who can fulfill the role,"
"You could, Captain," Tuvok stated. "Mr. Paris trusts and respects you. Although I agreed with your original reasoning that it would be easier for him to confide in a male counselor, I believe at this stage that only a human counselor will be of true help."
"Very well," Kathryn agreed. "I will talk to him in the morning and see how he feels. I don't want to force him into anything, but I agree that we have to do something. It just isn't natural for him to sit quietly with Chakotay like that. Where is all his anger, Tuvok? I would feel happier if he would just finally explode and let it out!"
On the other side of the room, Tom's anger was finally preparing to make a guest appearance.
Slamming his fork down, Tom glared mulishly at his still half-full plate.
"Aren't you going to at least try to eat some of the vegetables," Chakotay asked in concern. Tom was so pale that Chakotay was positive he was suffering from anemia. The pilot looked virtually bloodless to him. He was going to talk to the Doctor about adding some nutritional supplements to Tom's medicine, but in the meantime, since vegetables were a rich form of iron, he would feel happier if Tom would at least try to eat them.
"I said I wanted casserole," Tom hissed. "Not half the hydroponics bay."
"It's just a few vegetables, Tom. I know you aren't eating properly. You look like hell, to be honest," Chakotay replied.
Tom's eyes flared. How dare he? How fucking dare he? He wanted to tell Chakotay to go to hell himself. For three months Chakotay had controlled every morsel of food that had crossed his lips. No way was he ever going to tell him what he could or couldn't eat again.
"I'm not eating them," he said firmly, then flinched in terror at the unfamiliar sound of his own voice raised in defiance.
"Didn't your mother ever tell you that if don't eat all your dinner, you don't get any dessert?" Chakotay joked lightly, hoping to break the sudden tension.
To his surprise, Tom jerked to his feet so suddenly that his chair crashed to the floor behind him.
"Don't you fucking threaten ME," he screamed, the tears that he had managed to keep back earlier streaming down his furious face.
Chakotay spread his arms helplessly, his own face filled with confusion.
"Tom, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to -"
"You can't tell me what to do. You can't - I won't - I - I - I HATE YOU!" Tom howled before turning and fleeing the Mess.
In the sudden, embarrassed silence of the crowded room, Chakotay surged to his feet to follow, only to find Tuvok and the Captain blocking his path.
In his own guilty confusion, Chakotay was fortunately oblivious to the obvious suspicion in the Captain's furious face.
"I was just trying to make him eat his dinner, Kathryn," he explained helplessly.
"What did Mr. Paris mean by "you can't threaten me?"" Tuvok demanded.
Chakotay shrugged in bewilderment.
"I just joked that if he didn't eat his dinner, he couldn't have dessert," he replied. "It was a joke, that's all."
"Evidently Tom doesn't share your sense of humor," the Captain snapped angrily.
Chakotay flushed with remorse, and Kathryn forced herself to remember that he didn't know.
"I told you Tom was fragile," she said in a less condemning voice.
"He'll be more fragile if he doesn't start to eat properly," Chakotay argued. "He looks anemic."
"I suggest you leave Tom's future medical diagnosis to the Doctor, Chakotay," she replied curtly.
"I owe Tom an apology," Chakotay agreed.
Kathryn stiffened. Now that she understood why Tom had become so upset, she was actually glad it had happened. It was time that Tom started to see his captivity for what it had really been. His over-reaction to Chakotay's attempt to "bully" him was the most healthy reaction he had evidenced so far, in her opinion.
"I think you should leave him alone for now, Chakotay. It will do him good to have a good cry and get some of the rage out of his system," she advised.
Chakotay nodded reluctantly. He hated the idea of Tom being alone and upset, but he had already put his foot in it. Perhaps the Captain was right. He would apologise tomorrow.
"I'm sorry, Captain. I was trying to help Tom but all I did was upset him," he said bitterly.
"I'm sure you meant well," Kathryn said, with an obviously forced smile.
"If you'll excuse me, I think I should retire," Chakotay said stiffly. Perhaps he was still suffering from the blow to his head, he thought, because everyone's reactions to him seemed strange at the moment. To be truthful, he did feel a little off-color. He rubbed his temples tiredly, his head still pounding from Tom's screams of outrage.
"Of course, Chakotay. I'll see you in the morning," Kathryn replied in a kinder tone of voice as she noted the paleness of his face.
After he had left, she turned to the occupants of the Mess Hall and quietly announced, "If I hear any mention of what happened tonight, the culprits will be spending the next month cleaning the jeffries tubes with their toothbrushes. Do I make myself clear?"
Hoping she could take the low murmurs of sheepish agreement at face value, she turned and left the mess hall herself.
She knew sleep would be a long time coming for her that night. Over and over her mind insisted on replaying the incident in the mess hall. Could she trust Chakotay? Was he really the innocent he appeared or was he just playing a clever game?
She decided that she needed Tom's interpretation of the incident to even begin to decide. What if Chakotay had been lying? What if Tom hadn't overreacted to an inappropriate joke? The fact that she had taken Chakotay's words at face value either suggested that she really was beginning to trust him at a subconscious level, or that she was even more of a fool than she had previously suspected.
Her thoughts disturbed her so much that she was tempted to go and visit Tom now and put her doubts to rest, but she decided it would be selfish on her part. Tom really did look pale, as Chakotay had said, and needed more sleep than he had evidently been getting recently. It would be a mistake to start their first counseling session at this time of the evening. He would be too tired and upset to respond to her.
That decided, she reached for a stack of unfinished reports and opened the first padd in an attempt to distract herself. She had barely read the second paragraph when her door chime sounded.
"Come in," she snapped.
Tuvok entered, his face carefully devoid of emotion.
"Captain, I have made a severe error of judgment," he confessed solemnly.
"What's happened?" she demanded.
After an uncharacteristic silence, Tuvok finally replied.
"There was an 'incident', Captain. Crewman Bennett advised me that contrary to our expectations, the Commander visited Mr. Paris in his quarters after he left the Mess. The monitoring devices alerted me to physical contact between them and I immediately transported myself and Crewman O'Halloran into the Lieutenant's quarters."
"Is Tom alright?" Kathryn demanded, cutting to the chase.
"Mr. Paris's injuries are not life-threatening, although he is remaining in sickbay for observation," Tuvok replied.
The padd in Kathryn's hand tumbled to the floor.
"Where's Chakotay?" she demanded.
"I placed him under arrest, Captain. He is in the brig."
"What the hell happened, Tuvok?" Kathryn demanded and listened in growing disbelief and alarm as the Vulcan explained.
"What the hell do I do now, Tuvok?" she demanded when he had finished.
"I sincerely regret the position I have placed you in, Captain," Tuvok replied quietly.
"Oh, shit," she cursed.
"Indeed," Tuvok agreed.