The Shattering of the Mask 23
See part 1 for disclaimer
Chakotay rather enjoyed taking command of Beta shift. He didn't have to deal with Harry Kim's glowering sneers, Tuvok's habit of perpetually following him around the bridge with his eyes while pretending not to, or Kathryn's habit of perpetually second guessing his judgment calls.
He was also finding the relative quietness of the shift beneficial to helping him keep his reports up to date, the Mess Hall was usually quiet when he went to lunch and there was invariably a holodec free when he wanted to use one at shift end.
He didn't know how the various denizens of the Delta Quadrant understood that they only were allowed to attack the ship during Alpha shift, but somehow it seemed that nothing particularly interesting or dramatic ever happened on Beta and Gamma shifts, so he could concentrate on his own problems instead of being embroiled in the rest of the Universe's hang ups.
Problem. Not problems. Just problem singular.
Paris was haunting him. There was no other word to describe it. He was obsessed with the long-legged blond. Tom's face flashed constantly into his head, filling all the gaps in his memory with pictures of Tom's face.
He had told Kathryn that he wanted the shift change because he didn't want to run the risk of frightening the vulnerable pilot if he should suffer one of the fits that she had mentioned. It had been partially true, of course, but the real reason was that he couldn't bear to see Tom and not touch him.
He didn't mean sexually. He wasn't *that* insensitive a bastard that he would allow his personal attraction to be a factor. He just couldn't escape his memories of the moment when Tom had been swinging that knife in his quarters, with blood gushing from his forearm and he had had to slap Tom to get hold of the knife.
Even now, weeks later, the sound of his own palm connecting with Tom's cheek haunted his dreams. Although he knew he had possibly saved Tom's life with his action, the look of complete terror on Tom's face had been more than he could bear to remember.
The way that Tom's eyes had gone black and dull with shock and he had looked at Chakotay in that moment as though *he* was the most terrifying thing that Tom had ever seen.
Instead of fighting him, Tom had dropped the knife and had started to sink towards his knees in a motion of complete submission to whatever further violence Chakotay intended. Tom's terrified capitulation had shocked the Commander so much that he had barely remembered to grab hold of the knife and whisk it out of harm's way before Tuvok and O'Halloran had beamed into Tom's quarters.
It horrified him that Tom was so vulnerable, so broken, that he would respond to violence with submission. It haunted him even more than the thought that Tom had been harming himself.
What if someone really attacked Tom?
Tom obviously couldn't defend himself. Whatever those bastards had done to him had broken Tom so badly that he didn't even dare to fight back anymore. Chakotay couldn't even begin to imagine what it would take to make a brave man like Tom so defenseless, but he hoped Tom's rapists were dead and rotting in hell for what they had done.
Chakotay was consumed by the need to protect the pilot. He didn't want to spend even a moment apart from him and so, perversely, he was forcing himself not to go near him at all. He was too afraid of overwhelming Tom with his feelings of protectiveness, of frightening Tom with the depth of his concern.
He also wasn't prepared to go near Tom until he had gotten to the bottom of his own medical problem.
He knew now that Kathryn had lied to him about the extent of his injuries because he had tried to access his medical records and even his command codes would not let him in. There was no reason for denying him access unless there was something in them that he couldn't be allowed to see.
It pissed him that Kathryn should play God like this. If he was dying, and he couldn't imagine any other reason for the secrecy, she had a duty to tell him what was wrong so that he could make his peace with the Spirits and prepare himself.
He had decided against confronting her though, assuming that if he did so she might just bury the files in an even less accessible place.
Instead he was working on breaking the Doctor's security codes. They were good, but he was better. It would only be a matter of a few more days before he discovered what damage had occurred to him during the attempted mutiny.
If it turned out that his brain injury was fatal, then he would give up his daydreams about Tom Paris. Not fair to offer Tom his protection and then abandon him.
It wasn't fair, but it was no less than he had expected.
Tom had known the Captain would baulk at the idea of him wanting to see Chakotay.
But it had been two weeks since their discussion and he had really made an effort to "pull himself together". He was actually managing to man the helm until early-afternoon now before his exhaustion set in. Admittedly it was easier to do so now that Chakotay was no longer on the Bridge with him.
He wasn't pretending that Chakotay's presence didn't frighten him. His body couldn't help reacting that way. His head knew the difference though and he was sure that if he could just spend *more* time with the real Chakotay he knew he would be able to start reconciling his reactions, replacing his bad memories with good ones.
No one could possibly have told Chakotay to stay away from *him*, so Tom figured that if he went to see Chakotay himself, no one would know. Well, there was the possibility that Chakotay might mention it to the Captain, so he would have to come up with a plausible reason why Chakotay wouldn't, but that shouldn't be hard.
Chakotay, *this* Chakotay, wouldn't want to risk upsetting him, so as long as he said he wanted their meeting to be confidential, he couldn't see that Chakotay would feel the need to mention it.
Tom left the bridge at 1430, feeling both proud of himself for lasting that long, and yet guilty when Kathryn nodded her silent acceptance of his decision to leave. Having lasted *that* long, he could have seen it through to the end of shift, but he had decided that it was the best time to go to see Chakotay.
He couldn't face the idea of actually visiting Chakotay's quarters yet, just the thought of entering those rooms made bile leap into his throat. He knew that Chakotay liked to arrive at his office an hour or two before Beta shift started at 1600 though, and since no-one was walking about at this time in the afternoon, it was unlikely that anyone would see him take the detour on his way back to his own quarters.
His palms felt a little clammy, and his heart was racing as he approached Chakotay's office and saw the light on the entry console that indicated that Chakotay was inside and that he was available to visitors. It made it easier that he didn't have to announce his arrival, at least. He could just walk inside and pray that he didn't do anything so stupid as have a panic attack and run back out again.
He took a deep breath, straightened his shoulders, fixed an attempt at a smile on his face and walked towards the door. It whooshed open, revealing Chakotay seated at his desk, his dark head bowed over his computer console. The barrier of the desk between them gave Tom the courage to keep walking until he was inside.
Chakotay looked up, gave a start of surprise, and then a soft welcoming smile spread over his face when he identified his visitor.
"Hello Tom, come in, have a seat," he said gently.
Tom's face was pale, and the smile on his face was obviously forced beneath frightened blue eyes, but just the fact that he was there at all made Chakotay's heart leap. He hadn't seen Tom since the incident with the knife, and apart from Tom's obvious nervousness, he looked far better than Chakotay remembered.
The dark patches under his eyes had faded considerably, his skin was still a little pasty but no longer bloodless, and he had even put on a little much-needed weight.
"What can I do for you?" he asked as the silence continued.
Tom shuffled nervously in his seat. He was struggling to look Chakotay in the face, not because of fear, but because the softness of Chakotay's brown eyes was making him want to cry.
This *was* the real Chakotay. Damn the Captain and everyone else for telling him what he did or didn't need. What he needed was right in front of him now, smiling at him with a compassion and care that made his fear recede. As long as he was looking at that face, that expression, his memories had no power over him.
"I, um," Tom flushed and played nervously with his fingers. "I just missed you," he whispered, his voice so low that Chakotay barely heard the words.
He did hear them though and he felt something suspiciously like tears prickling the back of his eyes at Tom's hesitant words. He forced himself to stay calm, though, and not assume too much from Tom's decision to visit him.
"I missed you too, Tom," he replied. "I'm glad to see you looking a lot better, and the Captain tells me you are almost back to working full shifts."
"Yeah," Tom muttered.
"So *is* there something you want, or is this just a social call?" Chakotay asked softly, ensuring that his voice indicated that either reason was equally welcome.
Tom just shook his head. He could hardly admit that all he had wanted to do was see whether he could share a room with Chakotay without screaming. If he could do this everyday, just pop in on his way home, make a little small talk perhaps, then it would help, wouldn't it? He could take the vision of this smiling gentle Chakotay home with him to help ward off his nightmares.
"I just wanted to say hi," he whispered. "I have to go now."
Chakotay was disappointed as Tom rose to his feet and started to back awkwardly out of the room. He felt like he should somehow offer Tom more. Tom obviously needed *something* but Chakotay wasn't sure what and he instinctively knew that it would be wrong to press Tom for an answer.
"Thank you for coming, Tom. It was a pleasure to see you," he said sincerely.
"Can I come tomorrow?" Tom asked, looking nervously at his feet and flinching a little, just in case.
"You can come and see me anytime, Tom. Day or night," Chakotay assured him gently.
Tom flushed and nodded, then turned and fled out of the room.
On the bridge, Tuvok, who was not aware that Captain Janeway had expressly forbidden Tom to see Chakotay, ran the conversation he had just listened to over in his head.
The interaction between Tom and Chakotay had been innocuous. Chakotay had obviously made no effort to either physically or psychologically breach the gap between himself and the pilot, and whatever Tom's reasons had been for going to see the Commander, he had left safely and had indicated by his desire to return again that it had helped him in some fashion to see the Commander in that way.
Seeing no harm in what Tom had done, and realising that it might even be what Tom needed to start coping with life on Voyager alongside his former abuser, Tuvok decided that there was no need to mention the incident in his security report.
For the next four days, Tom continued to visit Chakotay on his way home from shift.
Although he never stayed more than a few minutes, Chakotay found himself ensuring that he reached his office no later than 1200, in case Tom left the bridge early. He didn't want to run the risk that Tom would arrive and find that he was not there.
He didn't know what Tom wanted with these visits, but obviously the pilot was finding comfort in them, and every day he stayed just a little longer, and spoke a sentence or two more before bolting.
In some small way he knew that his presence alone was helping Tom deal with the demons that haunted him and he began to dare hope that maybe, one day, far in the future, there might be more between him and the beautiful young man.
It added to his determination to get to the bottom of his own personal mystery, the decoding of his own medical records. He used the extra few hours in his office each day, as he waited for Tom to arrive, in devising a way to break through the encryption of the file.
It was the fifth day when he finally succeeded.
Tom hadn't arrived yet, and it was gone 1530, which meant presumably that the pilot was actually finally going to achieve his goal of spending the whole shift at the helm.
Chakotay was so proud of him that he was going to suggest that they met during his own "lunch" break for a quick celebratory drink. It would have to be coffee, because Chakotay would be on duty and, besides, he didn't want to frighten Tom by suggesting anything that might be construed as a "date", but he thought that it would be a good change for Tom to come out of his quarters at 2000, even for a few minutes, instead of staying at home by himself as usual.
It was in this spirit of celebration that he finally struck the right key on his keyboard, and the details of his medical files scrolled down the screen of his console.