The Shattering of the Mask 21
See part 1 for disclaimer
The Captain paused at the entrance to the brig, smoothed her uniform, pushed her hair behind her ears and straightened her shoulders as she forced her face to relax into an expression of innocent concern. She took a deep breath, straightened her tunic once more, then stepped forward to activate the automatic door.
Crewman O'Halloran shot to his feet at her entrance.
"At ease, Ronan," she said calmly. "Please release the Commander immediately."
She saw confusion and outrage race across O'Halloran's features at her order, and he set his mouth in a tight line of disapproval, yet to her relief he didn't argue her decision verbally. With well-trained obedience he deactivated the force-field that was trapping Chakotay in his cell, but he surreptitiously moved his right hand nearer the holster of his phaser, just in case.
"Are you alright, Chakotay?" Kathryn asked, as the Commander surged to his feet, his face dark with outrage.
Ignoring her question, Chakotay just demanded, "How's Tom?"
Kathryn breathed a sigh of relief. The fact that Chakotay's first concern was for Tom seemed to confirm Tom's version of events. She had been surprised that Tuvok had taken Tom's confession at face value, yet the Doctor had reluctantly confirmed that Tom's injuries were only the latest in a series of self-mutilations.
"He's fine, Chakotay. Despite the amount of blood, the cuts were relatively superficial and at least we now know what he has been doing to himself, so we can begin to help him," she said sadly.
"But why did he do it?" Chakotay demanded.
"The doctor says that it was a perfectly natural response to his stress. He felt guilty and embarrassed about the way he acted in the Mess Hall and was in the process of 'punishing' himself for his loss of control, when you entered his quarters and caught him," Kathryn stated.
"It was natural for him to slice his arm open with a knife?" Chakotay demanded, in complete disbelief at the Captain's apparent calmness.
"The Doctor says that people who intentionally harm themselves are in fact very normal and sane people, who are in a lot of emotional pain. They self-injure as a way to cope, because they were never taught how to deal with intense feelings and emotions in healthy ways," Kathryn said.
Chakotay considered her words carefully.
"He cuts himself to only have to deal with the pain of his harmed flesh, rather then that of his burning soul," he eventually replied.
"Yes, it appears so," she confirmed, surprised at the depth of Chakotay's understanding.
Chakotay nodded sadly, his brown eyes filled with pity for the pilot, then as he finally accepted that Tom was alright, he finally allowed his personal wrath to bubble to the surface.
"So perhaps you would now like to explain exactly what the fuck I am doing in the brig, Kathryn," he snarled.
Kathryn gave thanks for her years of experience in controlling her facial expressions as she began her well-rehearsed lie.
"I cannot begin to apologise enough for Tuvok's actions, Chakotay. He is sincerely embarrassed and perturbed by his misunderstanding and has requested that he should be subject to a disciplinary hearing.
"However, since you were found in highly suspicious circumstances, it is not completely surprising that he misread the situation. You have to remember that he is a Vulcan, Chakotay and so we cannot expect him to react in the same way as you or I would. Tom was bleeding profusely, had evidence of a severe blow to his face and was in a state of near hysterical terror, and you were holding the knife," she reminded him.
"I had to strike him to take the knife off him. I had to prevent him from hurting himself any further. What did you expect me to do, Kathryn? Just let him continue mutilating himself?" Chakotay roared.
"Of course not, Chakotay. You did what was necessary. Although I would have preferred you not to punch him in the face, of course."
Chakotay's anger deflated like a pricked balloon, and his eyes misted a little.
"I know," he whispered. "I panicked. There was so much blood, and Tom was waving the knife around like a madman, threatening to actually slit his wrists if I interfered. All I could think of was saving his life. But I didn't punch him, I slapped him, that's all. I swear Kathryn. I didn't hit him."
Kathryn had known that. Tom had been sporting a clear hand-print on the side of his face, but she had needed to put Chakotay on the defensive to try and side-track his own fury at his arrest.
"Well," she soothed, "I'm sure it all happened very fast and you did the best that you could do under the circumstances. But, I am sure you can see how the situation looked to Tuvok."
Chakotay pondered her words.
"No, Kathryn. I can't. You are saying that Tuvok did the "logical" thing under the circumstances, but I disagree. I am the First Officer of this ship. Whatever the "apparent" situation, the logical response would have been to beam Tom to sickbay and then ask me to explain myself. Whatever the situation may have looked like, arresting a Senior Officer before the facts were investigated was a clear breach of protocol," he spat.
Kathryn sighed internally. She really hadn't wanted to proceed with step two of the plan if she could have avoided it, but Chakotay had immediately seen through her attempt to use Tuvok's alien nature as an excuse.
"I think I'm going to have to come clean, Chakotay and tell you the truth," she sighed.
"I guess I'm really fucked, huh?" Tom asked the Doctor bitterly.
"On the contrary, Mr. Paris, it is a great relief to us all that we have become fully aware of the depths of your inner turmoil. Your apparent acceptance of what had happened to you, and your valiant efforts to resume your former life, were laudable but unnatural. It was obvious that you were suppressing your emotions and refusing to deal with your experiences. Now that your private actions have come to light, I am in a better position to help you."
"Now I'm grounded and confined to Sickbay, you mean," Tom spat.
"You are neither grounded nor confined to Sickbay, Tom," the Doctor assured him gently.
"I'm not?" Tom demanded in surprise.
"Indeed you are not," the Doctor confirmed.
Tom raised confused eyes to the Doctor's face.
"But I'm mad, aren't I?" he asked in a small, hesitant voice.
"On the contrary, Tom, as I explained to the Captain, your actions have been perfectly sane. Foolish, admittedly, since you ignored my own efforts to help you, but still, you have done nothing wrong Tom."
"But I, I cut myself," Tom whispered, his face flushing with shame and his eyes flickering away from the Doctor's gaze as though he couldn't bear to see himself reflected in the Doctor's eyes.
"Superficial self-mutilation, such as cutting yourself, is like releasing a pressure-valve Tom. It isn't an act of insanity. It was your mind's way of trying to find a physical way of controlling your mental pain. If anything, it was your way of ensuring that you kept your sanity."
"I don't understand," Tom confessed, with a sob.
"You are obviously feeling a great deal of suppressed anger and high levels of self-directed hostility. Unable to handle these intense feelings, and unable to express your emotions verbally, you chose self-injury as a way for you to express your feelings and emotions. By causing yourself physical pain, you reduced your level of emotional and physiological pain to a bearable one," the Doctor explained.
"While your method of relieving your own stress was both barbaric and unhealthy, your urge to do it was natural. Severe abuse, particularly of a sexual nature, often leaves the victim feeling "dirty" and filled with guilt and self-loathing. Your own conflicted feelings about your body, resulted in you "punishing" it. Once you realise that your own feelings of guilt are groundless, you will be able to escape from the urge to punish yourself for something that, after all, was not your fault."
"Wasn't it?" Tom asked bitterly.
"Of course it wasn't," the Doctor said briskly.
"What about Chakotay?" Tom asked in sudden panic.
"Well, strictly speaking, it wasn't his fault either. The Cardassian pathogen caused so much damage to his brain that it is a miracle his psychosis remained fixated only on yourself," the Doctor replied.
"I know it wasn't his fault," Tom snapped impatiently. "I mean now. Did the Captain believe me? Is she going to let him out of the brig?"
"I believe so, Tom. It does however depend on whether she can adequately explain why he was arrested without telling him the true reason why Tuvok automatically assumed the worst."
"Oh fuck. It's all my fault," Tom whispered.
"It is not your fault," the Doctor repeated patiently.
"How the fuck do you know?" Tom screamed. "You don't know what I did. You don't know what happened!"
"Then why don't you tell me?" the Doctor suggested.
Chakotay collapsed back on the narrow bunk in his cell, his face draining of color.
"That's why you've been watching me all the time like I'm a rabid dog," he accused.
Kathryn flushed and nodded.
"And I suppose that's why you were so aggressive to me in the Mess, and why Tuvok simply beamed into Tom's quarters like that. You've been monitoring my comm badge," he hissed.
"We were concerned, yes. It only seemed prudent under the circumstances," she confirmed.
"Of course," Chakotay agreed tiredly. "And it explains why you have been so reluctant to let me interact with Tom."
"He's very fragile at the moment, as you know. I couldn't take a chance with his safety," Kathryn said.
"So," Chakotay asked, after a painful silence. "How long before the Doctor is sure that I am fully cured?"
"Just another week or so. He says that if a traumatic brain injury like the one you suffered was going to cause you to have seizures, you probably would have already experienced one. Although it is difficult to be precise about these things."
"And he really thinks that I could be unwittingly violent if I had one of these "fits,"" Chakotay asked, appalled by the idea.
"It's possible, Chakotay. You are still suffering from gaps in your memory, aren't you?"
"Yes," Chakotay agreed.
"Well the Doctor says that your brain will attempt to by-pass those gaps, and in doing so, you could short-circuit, in effect."
"So I'm potentially dangerous?" Chakotay demanded, his face filled with horror.
Kathryn patted his shoulder.
"Of course not, Chakotay," she reassured him.
"That's obviously not what Tuvok thinks," Chakotay griped bitterly.
"It was a misunderstanding, that's all. I'm sure you can see that now."
"Yes, I can. I apologise for losing my temper with you. I can see Tuvok's point of view now, and since his primary concern was for Tom, I can hardly hold the situation against him, since I feel the same way."
"I've decided to ask Tom if he will accept me as his counselor," Kathryn told him, carefully gauging his reaction.
Chakotay smiled for the first time since she had entered the cell.
"I think that's a wonderful idea, Kathryn. Tom's actions prove that he is not finding sufficient help from Tuvok's counseling, and it's becoming increasingly obvious to me why I shouldn't be interfering. Although I am sure that I am coping with the gaps in my memory, I seem to be showing a marked lack of judgment at the moment."
"Well, how about testing that judgment on the bridge, Commander? The ship doesn't run by herself," Kathryn said with an encouraging smile.
Chakotay smiled back and followed her out of the brig. He noted, however, that she made a concerted effort to walk next to him, rather than in front, as though she was reluctant to turn her back on him completely.
Dammit. Surely his head injury hadn't been that serious. Yet now he replayed his interaction with the Senior Staff over the last fortnight, he realised that they had all been slightly wary of him.
What if Kathryn was still hiding something from him. Maybe his head injury was incurable, fatal even. What if, rather than getting better, he was actually getting worse but no one wanted to tell him the bad news?
It was intolerable, he decided.
As soon as he found the opportunity, he was going to access his own medical files and find out exactly what it was that they were hiding from him.